OTTAWA (CCN) — About 150 people, including doctors, health care professionals and lawyers gathered on Parliament Hill June 15 to protest against 2012 federal government cuts to refugee health care.
“Health care professionals, social workers, and other concerned citizens across the country warned the government at the time of the potential harms of targeting such a vulnerable group,” said Dr. Doug Gruner, a family doctor who has worked with refugees for the past 15 years. “Did the Harper government listen? No they did not.”
The protest organized by Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care was among 20 in cities across Canada as part of the fourth National Day of Action against the cuts.
Gruner said the federal government refused to meet with frontline workers and with the more than 20 national health care organizations that asked the immigration minister to “reconsider the policy as it was clearly not informed by the experts nor by evidence.”
University of Ottawa law school professor and member of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers Peter Showler expressed outrage that the federal government is appealing last summer’s federal court decision in which Justice Anne McTavish described the cuts as unconstitutional on grounds of cruel and unusual punishment. The appeal will be heard in October. Showler demanded the government “uphold the McTavish order” and fully reinstate the programs, beyond the partial response they have made to the court order.
Showler rebutted government arguments for the policy. The government has argued the policy is meant to discourage fraudulent refugee claimants, but Showler pointed out it applies to all refugees, not just the fraudulent ones.
The government has described the refugee health care plan as “gold-plated,” but Showler said it was “fundamental basic health care,” the same as that received by “indigent” Canadians.
Showler warned that cutting back on preventive health care ends up costing the government more money because of greater use of emergency care.
Dr. Allison Eyre, founder of the New Canadians Clinic at the Centretown Community Health Centre, said refugees had their health care cut because some might be bogus, that “some people might not be following the rules.”
“I read the news,” she said, noting there are “some politicians who are not following the rules and I haven’t seen any call for anyone to suspend their health care coverage.”
Canadian Pharmacists’ Association government relations director Jeff Morrison urged those present to make refugee health care an election issue. “Bring this issue up” when politicians come seeking to be elected, he said. “Let’s remember this.”
Dr. Hasan Sheik, a family medicine resident, described his first refugee patient as a 17-year-old child who had been tortured in his home country and suffered from PTSD and thoughts of suicide. With the cuts to refugee health care, the medication to help him with the PTSD was no longer covered, he said.
Dr. Pairsa Rezaiefar, a family doctor and former Iranian refugee, said she could have been the 18-year-old refugee claimant she recently treated. She had been raped but could not receive the care she needed for her subsequent pregnancy. “We are very ordinary people who have lived some extraordinary adversity simply for being who we are,” she said.
Many refugees have been abused and tortured simply for being members of religious minorities, or the wrong tribe, she said. They arrive in Canada with the “baggage of physical and emotional loss” as well as “shame” and “fear of authority.”
“Do we just let them suffer?” she asked.