Good evening, committee. I'm a Jamaican lawyer working with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network where I collaborate with local groups to challenge HIV in the Caribbean.
As a Caribbean immigrant to Canada, I'm aware of our shared history of discriminatory colonial-era laws. Canada has excluded immigrants with disabilities, since before Confederation, when it denied immigration to persons considered physically and mentally defective.
While the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act no longer employs such reprehensible language, the excessive demand regime is rooted in discrimination and conceals outdated prejudices that people with disabilities are a burden on Canadian society. Ironically, the U.K., which was the source of these discriminatory laws, got rid of them, while we cling to a regime that fails to serve its stated purpose.
In 2010, Canada celebrated our ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the federal government has expressed its commitment to upholding and safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities and enabling their full participation in society.
Article 18 of the convention specifically calls on states parties to “recognize the rights of persons with disabilities to liberty and movement, to freedom to choose their residence, and to a nationality”. The excessive demand regime clearly violates this convention.
The UN has also repeatedly called upon countries to eliminate HIV-related restrictions on residents and described HIV-related discrimination in immigration as a violation of the right to equality before the law. By effectively preventing people who are living with HIV from becoming legal residents, the excessive demand regime also violates the rights of people living with HIV and other disabilities to education, employment, and health, as provided for in numerous international human rights laws that Canada has ratified.
Several countries do not have any laws or policies that deny immigration based on HIV status. For example, the U.K. does not impose mandatory HIV testing for those entering the country as immigrants. Driven by increasing public pressure to reduce the number of migrants to the U.K., on the grounds that they were overburdening the social welfare infrastructure, nevertheless, the U.K.'s All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS concluded that the U.K. government cannot look to exclude individuals on the basis of poor health in the U.K., while simultaneously working to provide access to health in developing countries.
The same can be said of Canada, which has invested roughly $350 million between 2001 and 2011 on international projects with a focus on disability and recently pledged over $800 million to the Global Fund to fight HIV, TB, and malaria, yet the excessive demand regime would deny some of the very persons who we fund overseas from coming to Canada.
On a personal note, my brother and I now live in Canada, while my ill parents are left alone in Jamaica. Neither would qualify as Canadian permanent residents because of excessive demand. When one parent eventually dies, we will have the hard choice of what to do about the other. Our parents have been a great source of support to us. Now, Canada's discriminatory immigration regime excludes them and many others like them from the care they need simply because they are deemed undesirable.
This is a legacy that we should not continue to defend.