Would-be immigrants to Canada offer to pay for AIDS drugs
By Allison Cross, Canwest News Service
February 27, 2010
For three years, New Yorkers Ricardo Companioni and Andrew Grover have been eyeing Toronto as their new home.
Of the many things about Canada that appeal to the American couple, who are both HIV positive, the freedom to wed and access to universal health care are paramount.
But the pair has not yet been able to call Canada home.
Generally healthy and never hospitalized, the couple are nonetheless expected to have combined prescription drug costs of about $33,500 per year for the next 10 years.
It’s an expense they have promised to pay themselves if they can’t secure employer-based or private drug coverage when in Canada.
However, because there is nothing to stop the couple from enrolling in an Ontario drug program meant to help residents offset particularly high prescription costs, Citizenship and Immigration Canada rejected the couple’s application for permanent residence status.
Companioni and Grover were told they would place an “excessive demand” on the health-care system.
“It wasn’t denied right away. They kept asking us for more and more documents,” said Companioni, a music programmer who applied in the skilled-worker category for immigration.
“Tax returns. All of our assets. They even went so far as to make us sign a letter promising not to use their social services. And we had to get this letter notarized. Even after all that, they said no.”
But at the urging of their lawyer, the couple — who have amassed a half-million dollars in assets — appealed the decision in federal court and won the right to have a new immigration officer examine their case.
The appeal’s argument borrowed from a 2005 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada on an immigration case, which set a precedent for ensuring immigration officers take into account plans made by applicants on how they will contribute to their, or their dependent’s, social services costs.
The couple’s lawyer, Michael Battista, argued this consideration should also be extended to something such as prescription drug costs.
The HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic in Ontario also formally intervened in the case on behalf of the couple.
Although Citizenship and Immigration then proceeded to file their own appeal, Battista said he’s confident Companioni and Grover will eventually become permanent residents.
“I am very optimistic about it,” he said. “This decision is really part of an evolution of the law with respect to immigration and health costs. It used to be, in my experience, that people with HIV were automatically refused, and, thankfully, we now have a more nuanced approach that actually looks at their capacity to contribute to their health costs.”
Citizenship and Immigration will not discuss specific immigration cases because of privacy concerns.
Canadian legislation doesn’t explicitly deny entry to people with HIV or AIDS, but it does deny applicants who will place “an excessive demand” on health services.
As HIV/AIDS is a costly, long-term illness, it often falls into this category.
Until its ban was lifted in January, the United States considered HIV/AIDS a communicable disease, and denied entrance to immigrants and travellers who tested positive for the virus.
All potential immigrants to Canada must undergo a medical examination, which includes an HIV test — which happens to be when many people discover they have the disease, said John Norquay, a lawyer for the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic in Ontario.
Exceptions are made for some immigrants, however, often family members sponsored by relatives already residing in Canada.
Sergio Karas, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said accepting immigration applications on the basis of their ability to pay for any aspect of their health care or social services is problematic, particularly because it can’t be policed.
There is always a chance applicants will renege on their promise to pay for health care, Karas said, and once they’re on Canadian soil, there’s nothing the government can do to stop it.
“The basic problem is that unless there are mechanisms in place that can monitor this, whatever promises they make, can turn out to be meaningless,” he said. “And unfortunately, there are no mechanisms to monitor them. Once you receive residency, it becomes unconditional.”
Despite the hurdles and legal bills, Companioni said he hasn’t been discouraged from becoming a Canadian.
“I’d still like it to work out,” he said. “We want to move to Canada.”
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