‘Not our idea,’ Ontario tells Ottawa over...
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Nov 08, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

‘Not our idea,’ Ontario tells Ottawa over controversial refugee welfare restrictions

Queen's Park denies the Conservative government’s claim that it suggested a minimum residency requirement that could restrict access by refugees to social assistance

OurWindsor.Ca

The Ontario government is strongly denying Ottawa’s suggestion that a controversial move to restrict refugees’ access to welfare was the province’s idea.

On Thursday, a senior federal immigration director told a Senate committee that the proposal to allow provinces to impose a minimum residency requirement for people seeking social assistance — currently embedded in the omnibus budgetary Bill C-43 — “came up” during conversations with provincial officials.

“We had a number of conversations with the Government of Ontario where we were looking at the very generous benefits Canada provided to asylum claimants in the past, when we’re trying to identify what adjustments we should be making in order to discourage inappropriate asylum claims,” said Mark Davidson, Immigration’s director general for international and intergovernmental relations.

“During that conversation, the Province of Ontario actually reminded us that there’s a provision in the federal law that limits the ability of provincial governments to make this policy choice in their own jurisdiction.”

When pushed by Toronto Senator Art Eggleton as to whether Ontario asked for the change, Davidson replied: “I wouldn’t say the Government of Ontario has specifically asked for this but certainly it’s come up in the conversation we had with them in the recent past.”

A spokesperson for Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek immediately rebuffed that claim.

“The government of Ontario has not requested the ability to impose residency restrictions, and we were not consulted on this legislation,” said Amber Anderson.

“In fact, the Ministry of Community and Social Services has concerns about the potential human rights implications of imposing a waiting period for a specific group. We believe that a waiting period could impact people with legitimate refugee claims who are truly in need. We have communicated our concerns to the federal government.”

Critics and advocacy groups said the province’s response confirms that the proposed changes were undertaken by the Conservative government with little consultation.

“This first went forward as a private member’s bill (C585) that essentially flew under the radar until we learned of it a couple of months ago. We had suspected this was actually a government-backed bill and not a true private member’s bill,” said Jennefer Laidley of Toronto’s Income Security Advocacy Centre.

“That was confirmed when the provisions were included in the government’s omnibus budget bill. Now, Ontario has confirmed it did not initiate it.”

Bill C43 will go before the parliamentary finance and immigration committees on Nov. 18 and 19, and return to the House of Commons for a final vote as soon as the end of the month.

Toronto Star

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