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Analysis

Doug Ford’s Social Services Minister is ‘Demonizing’ Child Refugees to Cut Anti-Child Poverty Program, Advocates Say

‘It is being done to score political points with racist and xenophobic supporters’

Child and refugee advocates are accusing Doug Ford’s social services minister of scapegoating child refugees to deflect attention from new cuts to programs that support children living in poverty.

Last week, PressProgress was first to report on the Ford government’s cuts to the Transition Child Benefit, a program that provides up to $230 per month to help social assistance recipients who do not qualify for the Ontario Child Benefit access “basic necessities” like food and clothing.

Toronto City Manager Chris Murray warned the cut would primarily impact the families of “residents who may have recently lost their job” and “refugee claimants who have been in Canada for less than 18 months.” Murray warned the cut could make many of these vulnerable families homeless.

Advocates and officials in Waterloo, London, Grey County and elsewhere raised similar concerns about the cut.

In response to questions about the cuts, Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod told the Legislature this week:

“The Transition Child Benefit is provided to recipients who already receive social assistance but do not qualify for the Ontario Child Benefit. Primarily, they are refugee claimants and illegal border crossers.”

Macleod went further, suggesting the children of refugees are undeserving of public support and misleadingly characterizing child refugees as individuals who are in Canada “illegally”:

But I ask the member opposite back: Is it fair to give a taxpayer subsidy to those who are crossing the border illegally and will likely be deported? Is it fair to provide a taxpayer subsidy to those who do not file?”

Advocates for refugees say they are disturbed by the way Macleod is scapegoating child refugees to justify cuts to programs aimed at helping children in poverty.

“The government shouldn’t be using this opportunity to demonize those in need of protection,” Debbie Douglas, Executive Director of the Ontario Council Of Agencies Serving Immigrants, told PressProgress.

“The fact that refugee claimants, who have the right to apply for social assistance, are portrayed as taking advantage of the system is very troubling,” Douglas added, noting “it reinforces negative stereotypes about those in need of protection.”

Irwin Elman, the province’s outgoing child advocate, told PressProgress Macleod’s remarks are especially troubling because “hunger, shelter and the safety of children should know no border.”

“When a dollar becomes more important to protect than a life we must realize we have lost our way,” Elman said.

Osgoode Law Professor Sean Rehaag says Macleod’s comments are also inaccurate.

Rehaag told PressProgress statistics show a majority of refugee claims made by “irregular border crossers” are granted while many others acquire residency through the immigration process.

“So, in fact, a large proportion of this group will not deported,” Rehaag told PressProgress. “Instead, they (and their children) are likely to become permanent members of Canadian communities.”

Even then, Rehaag notes, “because the numbers of refugees coming to Canada are very small, this policy will not save a meaningful amount of money.”

The Osgood Law Professor suggests Macleod’s rhetoric is really designed to “score political points with racist and xenophobic supporters of the current government.”

Ford has faced accusations of anti-immigrant dog whistle messaging in the past, notably in 2018 when Ford’s campaign came under fire for declaring Ontario must “take care of our own” during a debate on immigration.

At the time, the right-wing third party advertiser Ontario Proud blanketed the province’s social media feeds with messages on anti-refugee themes.

Elsewhere, the government has also cut legal aid support for refugees in a move critics said could put Canada afoul of international law.

Ford’s government is already cutting a billion dollars from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services — including half a billion dollars in Ontario Works and ODSP financial support.

 

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