Published by Senator Jane Cordy on 12 July 2012
The Interim Federal Health Program provided temporary health-care coverage to eligible protected persons, refugee claimants and others who do not qualify for provincial or territorial health care plans. However, this all came to an end as of June 30.
Reforms announced by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney will end the coverage of the supplemental health-care benefits. The new rules allow medication and immunization to be provided only when there is a risk to public health or safety or if it is of an urgent nature. All others will be denied care.
A person with asthma would not receive medication, but in a crisis situation would be treated at the emergency department and then released with no medication, only to have to return to emergency later.
The same would be true for a diabetic who would not receive insulin, or someone with a heart problem; no medication. Emergency care is one of the most costly and these changes will increase emergency costs and will be downloaded onto the provinces and territories.
Refugees come to Canada to escape violence and persecution. Where we should be providing them with hope, Stephen Harper's government prefers to treat them as unworthy. It is a policy change typical of this government; victimize the most vulnerable. Does the immigration minister actually believe that refugees are risking their lives and spending large amounts of money in order to come to Canada so that they can get free eyeglasses?
In a rare move for any church group, the Anglican diocese along with a refugee sponsorship group in Winnipeg are taking the federal government to court over its changes to the program, claiming it is a breach of contract. The diocese and several church-funded refugee sponsorship-agreement holders have a contractual relationship with the federal government and operate under the assumption that the program will be in place.
The Canadian Council of Refugees has said that these cuts will be a serious deterrent to sponsors. The Conservatives are downloading costs to the provinces, municipalities, community based health programs, the charitable sector, and public programs and organizations that provide the uninsured with health benefits.
In response to demonstrations by doctors against these changes affecting the health of refugees, Kenney attacked those who oppose these changes as "extremists." Labelling doctors concerned about the health of refugees as "extremists" is deplorable. This type of behaviour has unfortunately become the norm under this government.
Physicians are deeply concerned that these cuts to health services will lead to poorer health outcomes. Canadian health-care workers should have been consulted before changes were made to cut health care for refugees.
Let us not consider refugees to be second-class individuals. These are people who have fled civil war, disaster or persecution. Most refugees have arrived in Canada with nothing; why would we want to revictimize them?
As Dr. Parisa Rezaiefar, a refugee who came to Canada and is now a physician, said, "I urge Minister Kenney to not take away that dream from today's refugees and tomorrow's citizens. The Interim Federal Health Program is not a charity; it is an investment in the future of the country."
I believe this is a very important issue. Not only does it hurt the health of those seeking asylum in Canada, it will affect our global reputation as a compassionate nation. Let us follow our humanitarian traditions and not allow ourselves to become so callous and unfeeling to the plight of others.