May 30, 2003
Hundreds of refugee claimants in Canada who test positive for inactive TB each year are not being told by immigration officials that they have the disease -- and neither are local health authorities, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser reported Tuesday. In a report tabled in the House of Commons, Fraser said immigration officials do inform public health authorities about immigrants with inactive TB who require medical surveillance or who have been granted refugee status.
"However, Immigration does not notify the refugee claimant or the public health authorities in the provinces and territories that the claimant requires medical surveillance unless the claimant applies for a temporary work or study permit. Refugee claimants are unaware that they have to report to public health authorities for medical surveillance if they have inactive tuberculosis," the report said.
That situation can last for months or years if a claimant's application is denied, or if he or she appeals or disappears to avoid a deportation order.
Susan Scarlett of Citizenship and Immigration Canada said an estimated 1,000 of the 12,000 people put under medical surveillance in 2001 were refugee claimants. Most of those cases were for inactive TB, while the rest were treated for syphilis.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre said he agrees with Fraser's findings. He said his department has already begun taking steps to notify public health authorities earlier should a refugee claimant have inactive TB. But he played down the problem, saying only a small percentage of inactive TB cases become active.
John Carsley, head of infectious diseases for Montreal's public health unit, said immigration officials should, ideally, treat refugee claimants the same way they treat immigrants to Canada and notify public health authorities promptly if someone is found to have inactive or latent TB. Carsley said Montreal's public health authority does not track the number of cases of inactive TB, but he estimates there are probably thousands of people with it.
On average, it took 10.4 months in 2001-2002 for the Immigration and Refugee Board to process refugee claimants, Fraser said in her report.