Canadian doctors stage 'day of action' to protest refugee health care cuts
Canadian doctors are gathering across the country today to protest the federal government’s cuts to refugee health care benefits.
The National Day of Action, organized by Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, will include demonstrations in front of legislatures, city halls and immigration offices from St. John’s to Victoria.
In Toronto and Montreal, large groups of physicians, nurses and medical students waved signs that read: “Health for all” and “Proud to protect refugees.”
They are taking to the streets to challenge changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, which offers temporary health care benefits to refugee claimants.
Last year, the government slashed drug, dental and vision coverage offered to claimants who have not been in Canada long enough to qualify for provincial health coverage.
Ottawa also announced that those whose refugee claims are rejected will only receive medical care if their condition is deemed a risk to public health or safety.
The government said the changes were necessary to prevent failed asylum seekers from taking advantage of Canada’s health care system, and weed out bogus refugee claims.
But opposition parties, physicians and health care workers decried the cuts, saying the government is denying basic and potentially life-saving care to thousands of people seeking protection in Canada every year.
The group Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care is posting Twitter updates on the cross-country protests.
At the Toronto rally, Dr. Sandy Buchman told the crowd: "We will not be bystanders. If we are, we will be just as guilty as those who have made these cuts."
The CDRC has said that pregnant women and babies born to refugee claimants will be hardest hit because they cannot get timely care under the new rules.
The group said a number refugee claimants have been denied coverage for obstetrics services, cancer treatments and urgent surgery since the cutbacks were implemented on June 30, 2012.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office has dismissed many of those claims as unsubstantiated.
In a statement Monday, the Ontario Medical Association said the program cuts seem to be putting more pressure on emergency departments because people with non-urgent medical conditions have nowhere else to go.
“It's clear the changes made a year ago are having a negative impact on refugees getting the care and treatment they need,” OMA president Dr. Scott Wooder said.
Today’s protests are scheduled to take place on Parliament Hill, in front of the Alberta Legislature and in front of a Saskatoon hospital, among other locations from coast to coast.
CDRC and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers are arguing that refugee health care reductions are unconstitutional and have asked the Federal Court for a judicial review.
Last week, a group of more than 50 Canadian writers, artists and actors -- including Margaret Atwood and Shirley Douglas -- signed a declaration opposing cuts to health services for refugees.
“As a physician, and as a Canadian, it is unacceptable to me that refugees in need of health services are being denied care,” prominent writer and doctor Vincent Lam said at the time.