Elton John Funds Study Of Treatment Of Canadian Refugees

Through his AIDS Foundation, Elton John—one of the world’s most famous pop stars—will fund a study to examine how recent changes to Canada’s immigration laws affect Canadian refugees living with HIV/AIDS.

John, who’s married to Canadian-born David Furnish, established the Elton John AIDS Foundation to provide funding for AIDS and HIV-related studies and research. Through his foundation, John will provide $75,000 in funding for the Canadian refugee study.

The study will be conducted by the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program. In announcing the program, Furnish said the Human Rights Program would “take the lead in advocating on behalf of HIV-positive refugee claimants seeking a better life in Canada.”

There has been a great deal of recent controversy about Canada’s immigration policies in the wake of the overhaul of the country’s immigration laws last year. Critics of the changes to the country’s immigration policies have accused the Conservative government of shifting the emphasis of Canadian immigration from reuniting families and personal histories to the economic needs of the country. They point to the introduction of the new Canadian Express Entry immigration program—which began on January 1st—in which immigrants are judged based on how well their skills and educational histories meet the current economic needs of Canada.

The University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program has been a long-time advocate for people afflicted with HIV and AIDS, particularly Africans who have been affected by the disease. The Program’s Director, Renu Mandhane, was among those voicing criticism of the Canadian government’s recent changes to immigration and refugee policies.

While acknowledging that Canada has “long been a leader” in protecting those fleeing persecution based on their HIV status or sexual orientation, Mandhane added that “the federal government’s new refugee policies are threatening to undermine our reputation. It’s critical that Canada continue to show leadership in terms of protecting these very vulnerable individuals.”

The Canadian government has also been subjected to criticism of how its refugee policies are impacting those affected by the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Iraq. In the wake of that criticism, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently announced that Canada would increase the number of Syrian refugees it permits to relocate to Canada. Still, some critics have accused the Conservative government of an unwillingness to open its doors to Muslim immigrants from Iraq and Syria.

The civil rights group Citizens For Public Justice says that internal government communications appears to indicate that the 1.300 Syrian refugees already selected for relocation in Canada came from a pool of 3,500 Christian Syrians.

However, a spokesman for the civil rights organization said it was difficult to be certain that religion was a deciding factor in which Syrian refugees are granted status in Canada, primarily because the government does not provide religious background information on refugee claimants it chooses to allow from Syria.