Sign the letter: Our Lives are Not an “Excessive Demand”

Pencil drawing of a group of about 25 protesters in a line holding a banner that says "Access Denied." The protesters are a divers group, some standing and some sitting in wheelchairs. In the background several protestors are holding banners that say "End Austerity - Stop the" (the word cuts is obscured) and "Justice." Several protesters are also holding placards.

Remove Disablism from Canadian Immigration Rules Now

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The Honourable Ahmed Hussan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Members of the Standing Committee of Citizenship and Immigration

As members and supporters of disabled, Deaf, mad, psychiatric consumer/survivor, and disability-labeled communities, we call on the Federal Government to immediately remove the “excessive demand” clause and other disablist regulations from the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and to ensure the fair treatment of migrant workers and their family members who have been impacted by them.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claims “we cannot rest until persons with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else,” section 38(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act excludes disabled people, including people living with HIV, and some trans people, from Canada. Section 38(1)(c) allows for an applicant to be rejected by providing the basis to reject an  applicant if they or their family member “might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services.”

The “excessive demand” clause prevents  disabled people from immigrating to Canada, and denies citizenship to people who have become disabled while working in Canada as part of federal temporary work schemes.

The “excessive demand” clause shuts out migrants and immigrants who have lived and worked in Canada for many years if they or one of their dependents are disabled.

The “excessive demand” clause constructs disabled people only in negative terms – solely as a drain on resources. It erases the valuable contributions of disabled people to their communities.

The “excessive demand” clause increases the vulnerability and exploitation of low-waged migrant workers who become sick or injured because of sub-standard work conditions in Canada, These workers are then denied permanent status based on their injuries.

Migrant workers who have come to Canada through federal schemes such as the Caregiver or the Live-In Caregiver Program (CP), Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), or Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP)  cannot change workplaces without losing their work permits, which means they cannot easily refuse dangerous or unsafe work, forcing them to risk illness or serious injury.

Caregivers are the only group of low-waged migrant workers with a Federal pathway to permanent residency after a period of working in Canada. However, if they become ill or injured during the qualification period, they can be excluded under the “excessive demand clause”. Caregivers won protections against this initially under the Juana Tejada law in 2010, but these were reneged in 2014. The “excessive demand” clause also means that caregivers with sick or disabled children or partners cannot become permanent residents. The CP also discriminates against caregivers with disabilities by requiring a medical exam before getting permit.

The Charter guarantees equality before and under the law and the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination, including on the basis of disability. Section 38 (1)(c) specifically violates the Charter.

The House of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship is currently holding hearings on Medical Inadmissibility (“excessive demand”).

We demand that the Canadian Government immediately:

  1. Remove the “excessive demand” clause Section 38(1)(c) from the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
  2. Immediately grant permanent residency to everyone who was denied permanent residency on disability grounds in the last 10 years.

Ultimately, we demand that the Canadian government eliminate all disablist policies and regulations and ensure permanent immigration status for all, including permanent residency on arrival for migrant workers.

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Disability plays a key role in immigration policy, policy that has the desire to keep disabled people out of the country embedded in it. In Canada, the 1886 Immigration Act prohibited “the landing of passengers suffering from any loathsome, dangerous or infectious disease.”

Today, one can be deemed inadmissible if their condition “might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services”. People have been excluded from entering Canada for having things like arthritis, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities or for being quadriplegic.

Abdelkader Belaouni was denied immigration status largely because he is blind and, like about 90% of other blind people in Quebec, was unemployed.

Rather than be deported to Algeria, Kader sought sanctuary in a church in Montreal that he has been unable to leave for over 3 years.

In the United States they have a similar policy of discrimination against disabled immigrants. Medical exams for immigration purposes were initiated in 1891. According to historian Paul Longmore in Why I Burned My Book, “exclusion of aliens with disabilities has been a central, if uncontroversial, goal” of U.S. immigration policy. Lomgmore claims that “officials labored throughout the nineteenth century to bar ‘the halt, the lame, and the blind,’ the ‘deformend, crippled or maimed,’iii. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, new laws allowed for even greater powers to deny disabled immigrants entry to the US.

Generally, immigration has been used as a tool for social control and, among others (like racist quotas and practices), the medical exception aspect of immigration law has been used this way. One of the best examples of this was the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952. The act prohibited the entry into the United States of anyone who was “afflicted with [a] psychopathic personality” which was interpreted by the courts to include homosexuality.

As views on homosexuality changed, the bar on homosexual immigration was lifted (1976 for Canada, 1990 for the United States). This definition of disabled or psychopathic which was applied to homosexuals was applied to further political aims.

Disability, especially in the context of immigration, is an ever changing category that is redefined by whim or convenience to segregate undesirables.

The rationale behind this form of segregation is that it is a privilege to come to Canada or the United States and that not just anyone should be allowed in as they may drain national resources.

Here are some problems with this position:

Colonization: The United States and Canada are colonial countries of which the bulk of the population is non-indigenous and occupying this land. As occupiers, we should have no right to dictate who is permitted into these two countries.

Imperialism: American and Canadian governments, corporations and citizens have neo-liberal economic policies which exploit Third-world human and natural resources. The individuals who are impoverished and/or oppressed by these policies should be able to follow the money back to the countries that are implementing them. They should be entitled to thrive on the wealth that North Americans possess because of that exploitation.

War: The victims of the wars waged or supported for political or economic gain by Canada and the United states should have the right to seek refuge in our nations.

Update: Since originally writing this, Kader won immigration status after 3 years and almost 10 months! You can check out his music by clicking here.

In-text links used in this post:

Paul Longmore

Why I Burned My Book

racist quotas

Kader’s music

Immigration Victory – But the Battle Continues

The Maeng family is going to be able to stay in Canada. This is great news for them and their community. For their story, click here. While there are success stories, from time to time, about disabled people being able to stay in Canada despite immigration policies. In these instances, like with the Maengs, the government makes an exception to the rule that disabled people aren’t allowed to immigrate if they are going to be a ‘burden’ on the health system. This is a disgusting policy. It is also disgusting that disabled people have to get media attention and public support in order to overcome this disablist policy.

Of course, there are many problematic policies in the immigration system: it is racist, sexist, classist and disablist and all of these need to be fought.