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Groups Demand Health Care For All

Tory changes to IFHP negatively affect refugees in need of care

by Miriam Katawazi

Groups Demand Health Care For All

A pregnant woman suffering from abdominal pain enters the Crossroads Clinic at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. She’s been turned away from two other hospitals because she’s a refugee from a country that the Canadian government deems to be “safe.”

Dr. Meb Rashid, director of the clinic, said that instances of refugees being denied health care is not uncommon. Just two weeks ago, he treated a feverish child who also had no access to health care because she came from a safe Designated Country of Origin (DCO).

Under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), implemented on Jun. 30, 2012, many refugees no longer have access to health care or medical services in Canada.

“Without access to health care, what will happen is that diabetics will stop taking their medication and will end up in emergency rooms, women will not get prenatal care, and children with no health insurance will continue to have no access to health care,” Rashid told the Leveller.

“We know the recipe for catastrophe is there,” he stressed.

Further changes were made affecting the lives of refugees with the implementation of the DCO list on Dec. 15, 2012.

Because of the IFHP reforms, refugee claimants will only receive coverage for health-care services and treatments required “to diagnose, prevent or treat a condition or disease that poses a risk to public health and safety,” said Paul Northcott,  spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in an email to the Leveller.   

“Along with the loss of health care, a person making a refugee claim from one of these countries will be treated as guilty until proven innocent but with very little opportunity to do so,” Health For All (HFA) organizer Ritika Goel told the Leveller via email.

HFA is a Canadian organization that pushes for free access to health care for all people in Canada regardless of citizenship.

Goel said the government fast-tracks claims made by refugees only to deny them health-care services while they're here.

“Designating a country as a DCO does not take into account various forms of persecution based on gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, nor does the designation consider state-sanctioned attacks on racialized communities and other forms of political repression,” a spokesperson from the Health Justice Collective (HJC) told the Leveller via email.

The HJC is a Montréal-based activist group made up of health care workers who advocate for health care to be a basic human right.

The HJC stated that the list is a “not-so-veiled attack” on Roma refugees from DCO countries such as Hungary, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. “It is laughable to call a place like Hungary a safe country. What is safe for the majority is not always safe for the minority.”

Hungary is a country that has been found guilty of gross human rights violations towards the Roma, as documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Goel said.

The IFHP and Bill C-31 (Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act), Goel stressed, are both part of the larger effort by the Conservative government to further marginalize the minority migrant communities in Canada.

“The policies are designed to send a message to the vulnerable people of the world that Canada is not a safe place for them,” Goel added.

The government, however, disagrees.

“The reassessment of the program and reforms are just sensible changes to ensure that most IFHP beneficiaries do not generally receive taxpayer-funded benefits that are more generous than those provided to Canadians,” Northcott said.

The HJC is calling on health practitioners to “refuse and fight by openly offering health care for all. ”Beyond the monetary costs, the Canadian society is sinking in a racist policy of exclusion, said the HJC.

Northcott noted that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told Parliament, “if provinces want to provide prescription and pharmaceutical coverage to certain asylum claimants who are not otherwise covered by the IFHP, they are welcome to do so.” 

“I hear colleagues talk about provincial governments stepping in to fill the gaps that are left in the coverage and we certainly would support that,” said Rashid via phone.

“I couldn’t care less about the coverage as long as people were being covered,” he added.

“Whether the feds are going to do it or the provinces are going to pick it up, it’s a mess.”

According to Goel, Ontario should follow Québec and Manitoba’s lead in providing the coverage the federal government won’t.

“The alternative is literally to let people die,” Goel added.

Not all refugees have come across clinics like Crossroads.

As Goel pointed out, there is the widely publicized case of a man who almost went blind until an ophthalmologist agreed to do a surgery free of charge.

In Saskatchewan, a man was ineligible for chemotherapy to treat his cancer until the government decided to pay for it in a special case.

“Many cases have been documented of women not being able to access prenatal care services, and people are being turned away from doctor's offices and emergency rooms if they aren’t able to pay,” Goel added. “It’s only a matter of time before someone dies as a direct result of these cuts.”

“If the people demand health for all, en masse, the government cannot look the other way,” Goel urged. “We can do everything in our power to hold this government accountable.”

According to Dr. Rashid, “The government has been warned.”

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