News  Panel addresses cuts to refugee healthcare

Bill C-31 eliminates coverage for certain refugee categories

The Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) at McGill organized a panel last Thursday entitled “Stop the Cuts!” regarding budget cuts and changes to the Conservative government’s Interim Federal Health Programme (IFHP), which provides temporary healthcare coverage for refugees.

According to the IFHP website, the program applies to those who “are not eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance plans and where a claim cannot be made under private health insurance,” including “resettled refugees, refugee claimants, certain persons detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and other specified groups.”

However, the program saw significant changes with Bill C-31, “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act” – called by some the “punishing refugees act” – which was passed in June and eliminated health coverage for certain refugees.

Under the new IFHP changes, the Federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has the right to deem some countries “safe.”  Asylum-seekers and refugees coming from those countries designated as safe do not have access to the program’s health coverage – even if urgent. This can only be overridden in the case of a medical condition that poses a threat to the public health of Canada.

Those from “non-designated countries of origin” will have access to medical care – provided it is urgent – but will not have any access to medication and vaccination unless the medical condition poses a public health danger.

No dental, vision, or psychological medical care will be provided to any refugees.

Thursday’s panel included presentations by members of organizations such as the Health Justice Collective, Doctors of the World, and Solidarity Across Borders, all of whom have been involved in actions against the federal cuts.

For Degane Sougal, QPIRG Internal Coordinator and panel presenter, the main aim of the panel was to address the question, “How do these cuts affect migrant communities?” – a question which, according to Sougal, “many believe has been neglected from mainstream media and Minister Kenney.”

In an email to The Daily, Sougal explained, “the government has justified these cuts by saying it will save taxpayers money and that refugees will still be getting the ‘same care’ as Canadians, even with the cuts to the IFHP.”

The panel questioned these claims, engaging panellists with expertise in the field such as healthcare workers, community organizers, and those who are from migrant communities or work directly with them.

According to speaker Samir Shaheen-Hussain of the Health Justice Collective, the Conservative government is pandering to a certain group of people in their electorate that have rigid positions on immigration.

He also called Bill C-31 “hypocritical,” saying that it would actually contribute to the conditions that cause many people to migrate in the first place.

In defence of Bill C-31, the government has claimed that most claimant refugees present invalid cases.

Janet Cleveland, a researcher at McGill and speaker at the panel, admitted that some could be abusing the system, but said that the government was inaccurately attempting to portray all refugee claimants to be illegal.

According to Naheed Dosani and Ritika Goel, who wrote an article on the cuts for the website Healthy Debate, the program changes will worsen health outcomes for refugees and could even cause threats for Canadians – as in the case of tuberculosis, which is not considered a public threat until after diagnosis.

Cleveland supported this with another example, citing cases where suicidal people are unable to get medication until their tendencies become homicidal, endangering not only their own lives but those of others as well.