Hospitality House Refugee Ministry

Hospitality House Refugee Ministry

What Happened

Effective July 1, 2012, the federal government made drastic cuts to the health services, restricting access to health care in Canada for refugees. The cuts are expected to generate about $100 million in savings. Hospitality House has launched a lawsuit, taking the federal government to court over the cuts for breach of contract. 

Since 1957, Citizenship and Immigration Canada funded the Interim Federal Health Program

(IFHP) to provide temporary health care coverage to refugees and people claiming refugee status. The IFHP provided a health care “bridge” between arrival in Canada and receiving the necessary status in the province or territory of residence, or until deportation for rejected claimants.

According to a Winnipeg Free Press Report, Hospitality House has sponsored thousands of refugees under sponsorship agreements under with Ottawa. The Anglican Church of Canada is one of the largest sponsors of refugees in Canada.  

Lawsuit Launched

As a result of the cuts, Hospitality House launched a lawsuit in June on behalf of the Anglican diocese of Rupert’s Land, claiming breach of contract against Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The Anglican Diocese and Hospitality House claim that they have a contractual relationship with the federal government, just like all refugee sponsors in Canada that have agreements with the federal government.  

Tom Denton, executive director of Hospitality House, was quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press explaining that "One of the assumptions underlying the sponsorships is the interim federal health plan would be in place. (…) Their health and their lives are literally on the line."

Hospitality House is seeking in the lawsuit to protect its clients, including 6,000 outstanding sponsorships awaiting processing overseas, according to Tom Denton.

The cuts

Prior to June 30, 2012, all refugees and refugee claimants had access to health care in Canada (including hospital services and supplementary health benefits like dental and vision care), on a comparable basis to Canadians and/or to social assistance (welfare) recipients.

According to a Postmedia report, the cuts were buried in the 2012 federal March budget, but because of the secrecy of the budget, no one knew until the actual cuts were announced months later. As a result, there was no consultation.

Changes to regulations governing the IFHP meant that the federal government drastically reduced or eliminated these health services for refugees and refugee claimants, effective July 1, 2012.

Following pressure from more than 2,000 medical professionals who protested on a National Day of Action June 18, and formed the group Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, the federal government backtracked partially on the cuts right before they became effective. However, these changes were specifically for those who are classified as Government-Assisted Refugees, while other groups are still denied important health benefits.

In a welcome move, the government of Manitoba announced in September 2012 that it would assist refugees in that province to accessing medical benefits. 

Relevant Dates:

  • 1957: The federal government begins to fund the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) services to provide temporary health-care coverage to refugees and people claiming refugee status.
  • March 2012: The cuts to the IFHP are secretly introduced in the Budget tabled by the federal government in March.
  • April 25 2012: The federal government announces the cuts.
  • June 18, 2012: A National Day of Action to protect refugee health care services takes place, with more than 2,000 health care workers coming together.
  • June 27, 2012: Hospitality House on behalf of the Anglican diocese of Rupert’s Land launches a lawsuit against the federal government claiming breach of contract. The case is against Citizenship and Immigration Canada because of the government plans to strip refugees of many health services.
  • June 29, 2012: The government agrees to make minor changes to the new IFHP.
  • July 1, 2012: The new IFHP regulations come into effect.
  • September 11, 2012: The province of Manitoba steps up to assist with providing health benefits. 

Role or Position

Hospitality House Refugee Ministry (Hospitality House) is a non-profit organization in Winnipeg, Manitoba that sponsors refugees. It is funded in part by the Anglican diocese in Winnipeg, and through a contractual relationship with the federal government, refugees receive support.  

Implications and Consequences

  • Democracy: Refugees and refugee claimants are among the most vulnerable people in Canada They bear the brunt of the cuts and are disproportionately affected by decisions that reduce access to health care, especially in their first year in Canada when refugees are most vulnerable. This has a direct impact on their lives and on their security, in contravention of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The cuts to Hospitality House means a loss of funding to the very civil society groups that are providing critical resources for the resettlement of refugees and the cuts are contrary to the spirit of Canada’s obligations under international refugee conventions. Importantly, it undermines the capacity of such civil organizations to take part in public debate on these issues.
  • Equality: Professional and independent reports have demonstrated that women, children are disproportionately affected by the cuts. This is a violation not only of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms, but also of Canada’s international obligations under human rights treaties to eliminate discrimination against women and children. The impact on people with disabilities is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which Canada has ratified.
  • Free Speech: The office of Minister Jason Kenney has challenged the reputation and credibility of medical doctors who spoke out against the cuts and came together to form Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care. They include some of Canada’s leading practitioners of community and family medicine, and the move from Jason Kenney’s office is unacceptable and irresponsible. It is clearly designed to intimidate these professionals and to create a chilling effect on individuals and organizations who seek to speak out on policy relevant issues of general concern.
  • Transparency: Cuts to the IFHP were buried in the federal budget, with no opportunity to consult with the stakeholders and health care providers who have massively and virtually unanimously opposed the cuts. The government’s use of omnibus budget bills and lack of transparency in undertaking cuts has been particularly decried by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who has threatened to take the government to court.


Date published: 16 November 2012

Photo from Hospitality House Refugee Ministry.