Conservative Cuts to Refugee Health Care
By John McCallum, MP (Markham—Unionville)
Two years ago, the Conservative government began denying many refugees access to health care, a move that Liberals have vigorously opposed for its cruelty and for the danger it poses to both refugees and to public health.
On July 4th, the Federal Court agreed and ruled that denying refugees access to health care amounted to “cruel and unusual” treatment. The court struck down the Conservatives’ cuts but, predictably, the government announced that it would challenge the ruling.
In the wake of that announcement, my colleagues Kirsty Duncan, Dr. Jane Philpott, and I held a roundtable in Toronto with 25 community stakeholders, in order to hear firsthand how these cruel and unusual changes to the Federal Interim Health Program have affected the lives of refugees.
Members of the medical community explained how the cuts have caused widespread confusion among doctors who now have to ascertain what “kind” of refugee a patient is before deciding whether or not they can be treated. Doctors ought to spend their time helping people, not navigating a complex maze of government red tape.
In addition to being cruel, doctors pointed out that denying refugees access to primary care poses a danger to public health, endangers lives and, as the Federal Court mentioned, will not save the federal government any money.
Identifying a health issue early on helps to prevent a worsening of the condition, which can eventually lead to an emergency room visit for treatment. Unfortunately, this is the single most expensive way to provide health care.
It was the stories from former refugees, however, which were the most heartbreaking. One former refugee explained how they feel discriminated against because of their country of origin.
Another refugee spoke of how the stigma of being a refugee never really goes away; that they constantly feel the need to defend themselves against that stigma, and that they often feel unwanted and wonder how a country like Canada could treat refugees this way.
Canada should be a place where a refugee can find safety and a fair chance at becoming a productive citizen. If the Conservatives shared that vision, they would drop their appeal of the Federal Court’s decision and let some of our society’s most vulnerable people have access to the health care they need.
* John McCullum is Liberal Critic for Citizenship and Immigration, Multiculturalism, Seniors