Immigration and Disability

4 March 2009


TO: All Members of Parliament

RE: Immigration and Disability

CCD seeks to keep you informed on issues of concern to persons with disabilities. In 2008, we forwarded you three articles—a short piece on our National Action Plan on Disability, an overview of our concerns related to the Robert Latimer case and an article highlighting the issue of disability and immigration.

This year, CCD will also be sharing with you articles outlining disability policy issues of concern to our organization. At the beginning of 2009, another immigration case came to prominence—the case of Chris Mason, a Winnipeg man disabled while working in Canada and then denied permanent resident status and deported because he was perceived to be burden on the health and social service system. Many of our members were very concerned about what happened to Mr. Mason because it underscores how society devalues the contribution made to society by people with disabilities and our families. In our on-going efforts to raise awareness about how the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act discriminates against people with disabilities, CCD has prepared another article on immigration policy and disability. We hope you find CCD’s articles useful and CCD remains willing to discuss our concerns further with you at any time.


Marie White
CCD National Chairperson

Laurie Beachell
CCD National Coordinator

Enclosure: CCD Immigration Paper re: Canada Deports Chris Mason Because He Has a Disability

Canada Deports Chris Mason Because He Has a Disability

 Despite his contributions to this country as a worker, Canada deported Chris Mason, a wheelchair user and British citizen who became disabled while in Canada. According to Mason, he was denied permanent resident status because he was perceived as an excessive burden because he had a disability. (Sanders, 2009) A Federal Court Judge supported Immigration Canada’s ruling on Mason’s case.

Laurie Helgason Speaks Out

Mason was taken into custody by agents of the Canada Border Service at the Winnipeg home of Laurie Helgason, Co-Chairperson of DAWN Manitoba. “I am appalled at what Canada has done to Chris. They weren’t even going to let him take his luggage. Or say good-bye to his friends. I thought they were being unusually hard on Chris,” states Helgason. “Chris landed in England and immediately became one of the many homeless people in England. His mother just finished driving him to a spinal cord hospital where he is finally getting some help for his many injuries. They are appalled that Canada would send someone in such obvious medical need. We are pursuing help to send all Chris’s things to him but it is slow going,” continued Helgason, who remains in contact with Mason.

Immigration Act Perpetuates Stereotypical Views

Mason’s case is another in a long line of cases illustrating the ableist practices in Canada’s immigration system, which has as its primary goal the recruitment of job-ready newcomers. “The Immigration Act perpetuates long held stereotypical views of persons with disabilities as being less deserving and a burden on society,” states John Rae, CCD Vice Chairperson. “The current law devalues Canadians with disabilities and does nothing to recognize the contribution persons with disabilities and their families can, and do, make to Canadian society.”

CCD Responds

Mason’s case renewed outrage in the disability community about Canada’s immigration practices. At CCD’s Council meeting on January 24, 2009, members decided CCD’s Social Policy Committee would work to resolve the discrimination occurring on disability grounds in Canada’s immigration system. “CCD is committed to changing a system which promotes the idea that people should be fearful of people with disabilities because we will over-tax the health and social service systems,” states Marie White, CCD Chairperson. “In the Twenties, eugenicists excluded us because we were, in their minds, biologically inferior; today, the bean counters want to exclude us because, in their minds, we will use too many health and social services.” The Canadian disability community began addressing this issue following the 1981 Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) founding conference in Singapore. DPI founder Henry Enns toured refugee camps in Asia and upon his return to Canada, he raised awareness within CCD about how Canada was not accepting refugees with disabilities.

Where Are Our Allies?

In 1984, CCD challenged all candidates running in the Federal Election to support Canada’s acceptance of 50 or more refugees with disabilities per year. While the disability community has been drawing attention to the ableist practices at Immigration Canada, there has been little support from outside the disability community. Law Professor Ravi Malhotra criticizes the lack of attention this issue has received from social justice activists in English Canada. He writes, “…one issue that has been almost entirely ignored by left organizations and activists, time and again, is the virtual exclusion of people with disabilities as potential immigrants under the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Also ignored are the efforts by disability rights activists to challenge these exclusions.” (Malhotra, 2006)

Blind Refugee in Sanctuary

Mason is not the only person with a disability challenging Canada’s immigration system. Abdelkader Belaouni, a blind refugee from Algeria, is in sanctuary in a Pointe St. Charles church in Montreal, Quebec. “I’m not hiding from Immigration Canada, but I want to tell them clearly, I will not be presenting myself for deportation. I’ve been able to achieve autonomy and dignity in Montreal, and I don’t want to lose that. My family are my friends here. I am here to defend myself; I am here to defend justice,” states Belaouni on the web site about his situation.

A Sense of Intense Vulnerability

In a 1998 report, Dr. Judith Sandys described research she undertook on the experience of immigration for ethno-racial people with disabilities. In her report, Sandys states that, “Many people told stories of how long it took for them to be able to immigrate, of being refused initially and having to reapply, of still waiting for a disabled spouse to be able to enter, of family members being required to put up large sums of money to ensure that they would not be a burden. Minister’s permits are perceived as especially problematic; denying people access to needed services and contributing to a sense of intense vulnerability.” (Sandys, 1998) The Minister’s Permit is a discretionary mechanism whereby Immigration Canada can allow people who would otherwise be deemed inadmissible entry into Canada or allow them to remain in Canada. This mechanism can have the effect of prolonging the systemic discrimination in the immigration system because the Department has a case-by-case method of defusing complaints if they become too public or are making their way through the court system. While individuals may have their individual case resolved, the discrimination in the system remains unchanged.

Bill C-254

On January 27, 2009, Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North MP and NDP Disability Critic) moved for leave to introduce Bill C-254, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (exception to inadmissibility). Speaking about Bill C-254 in the House of Commons, Wasylycia-Leis stated, “The bill would put some restraints on the present government which has a tendency to use section 38 of the act beyond its original intentions and to arbitrarily and unilaterally exclude persons living with disabilities. It is a step toward ending the hypocrisy of signing a UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities while systematically undermining it by falling back on ill-founded stereotypes, as was so graphically illustrated by the deportation of Chris Mason, a Winnipeg resident welcomed to Canada with open arms originally but booted out after becoming physically disabled.” (Hansard, 2009)

Some History

The 1859 Act Respecting Emigrants and Quarantine allowed the immigration of people with disabilities who were “likely to become permanently a public charge”, if security was provided for their support. The 1910 Immigration Act, which was amended in 1919, became more restrictive, banning the immigration of people with mental disabilities. The 1927 Act included language banning people who were “mentally or physically defective to such a degree as to affect their ability to earn a living.” The 1976 Immigration Act introduced the practice whereby people with disabilities could be excluded from immigration because they might place “excessive demands” on health or social services. This practice continued with the 1985 Immigration Act, which had s. 19(1)(a)(ii), and the current 2001 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which includes s. 38(I)(c), two very similar sections that establish excessive demands by persons with disabilities on health and social services as a criterion for exclusion from immigration. (Hilewitz v. Canada [2005] 2. S.C.R. 706, 2005 SCC 57)

Immigration Milestones for the Canadian Disability Rights Community

2007—Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which states in Article 18 (Liberty of Movement and Nationality): “b. Are not deprived, on the basis of disability, of their ability to obtain, possess and utilize documentation of their nationality or other documentation of identification, or to utilize relevant processes such as immigration proceedings, that may be needed to facilitate exercise of the right to liberty of movement;”.

2005—The Supreme Court of Canada decided the case of Hilewitz v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and De Jong v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, which has been hailed as a step forward for persons with disabilities. Judge Rosalie Abella said while it is reasonable for Canada’s immigration policy to ensure “undue burdens” are not placed on Canada by immigrants, it is not acceptable for the rules to be applied in such a way as to prevent immigration by “all persons who are intellectually disabled, regardless of family support or assistance.” Judge Abella found it incongruous that the wealth of the Hilewitz and De Jong families that gained them entry into Canada was not taken into consideration when their children were deemed inadmissible on the grounds that they would place a burden on social services.

2001—The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act replaced the 1985 Immigration Act. The new act left in place prohibitions denying immigration to persons with disabilities that “might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demands on health or social services”.

2001—There were unsuccessful attempts to have provincial nominees exempted from “excessive demand” restrictions.

2001—CCD intervened in the Federal Court case of Angela Chesters, who was denied Permanent Residency because she had MS. The case argued that the Immigration Act breached the equality guarantees of the Charter but was unsuccessful.

2000—In 2000 the Department of Citizenship and Immigration exempted Convention refugees and their dependants from the excessive demand clause.

1991—The disability community, through the omnibus reform project, urged amendment of the Immigration Act to address discrimination against immigrants with disabilities but the Canadian government left unchanged provisions that permit the refusal of people with disabilities perceived to be “excessively demanding” on health and social services.

1985—CCD urged Canada to amend the Immigration Act to bring it in line with the equality guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

1984—CCD asked all candidates running in the Federal Election to support Canada’s acceptance of 50 or more refugees with disabilities per year.

CCD’s Plans

CCD has identified immigration and disability as a priority because the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act discriminates against people with disabilities and is an example of how society devalues the contribution of people with disabilities and their families. CCD has developed an immigration working group and is now beginning to undertake research comparing the law in other countries, a case law review and qualitative research with community members. CCD will be bringing forward to media and decision-makers our proposals for improving Canada’s immigration policy.


Hilewitz v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration); De Jong v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2005] 2. S.C.R. 706, 2005 SCC 57.
Malhotra, Ravi. 2006 “Disability rights and immigration.” New Socialist Magazine. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
Sanders, Carol. “Deported paraplegic claims discrimination.” Winnipeg Free Press. January 21, 2009.
Sanders, Carol. “Man fighting deportation wants to get out of jail.” Winnipeg Free Press. January 16, 2009.
Sandys, Judith. 1998. “Immigration and Settlement Issues for Ethno-Racial People with Disabilities: An Exploratory Study.” Retrieved 2009.



Marie White, Chairperson
Laurie Beachell, National Coordinator