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Making refugee healthcare an election issue

by Robert Devet

When voting in the upcoming election people should remember refugee healthcare cuts, say Halifax physicians and medical students. That's why they briefly blocked the entrance to Pier 21, one of Canada's best known immigration landmarks. Photo Robert Devet
When voting in the upcoming election people should remember refugee healthcare cuts, say Halifax physicians and medical students. That's why they briefly blocked the entrance to Pier 21, one of Canada's best known immigration landmarks. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Pier 21 on the Halifax waterfront, point of arrival for one million immigrants, was briefly (and mostly symbolically) closed today.

It happened when twenty physicians, medical students and activists associated with the group Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care parked a truck adorned with huge signs in front of the entrance of the historic landmark.

The demonstration was organized to remind voters of the government's deplorable record when it comes to providing healthcare to refugees.

“Refugee healthcare in particular has not been a big enough issue in the campaign so far,” pediatric emergency medicine resident Alyson Holland tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

“We want people to know that if they want refugees to receive the healthcare that they need, then they need to go out and vote this year,” Holland says.

Government-sponsored and privately-sponsored refugees receive some healthcare coverage. However, adult refugee claimants only receive very minimal coverage, Holland explains. They are not even covered for emergency and primary care.

Last year the Federal Court ruled that the cuts were “cruel and unusual,” and hence unconstitutional. The government then made some minor adjustments, adding to the system's already considerable bureaucratic complexity. It is also appealing the ruling.

“People who come to this country as refugees need to be here, they are fleeing situations where their lives are at risk,” says Holland. “There is nowhere else to go for them, we owe our help to these people from our shared humanity.”

Holland believes conservative politicians are turning refugees into scapegoats for political reasons.

“Ultimately the money that is saved is negligible, the motivation is purely political, which is really sad for this country,” Holland says.

“It's devastating for a physician to realize that we are in a country where we don't provide for people in need. That's not why I went into medicine, that's not why any of us went into medicine,” she says.

“There is a scary trend towards xenophobia in this country,” says Holland, “which is not where our Canadian identity is.”

See also: Refugee healthcare cuts cruel and inhumane

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter    @DevetRobert


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