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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.




The courts have ruled that a Harper government initiative to withdraw health care from some refugee claimants is "cruel and unusual" and has been disallowed. The federal government this week said it will restore the health care temporarily, but only because the courts have so ordered. Meanwhile, it continues to appeal the decision. 

 

Bernie Farber:

Back in April of 2012 the government went ahead with a series of drastic - even life threatening - changes to the Interim Federal Health program, impacting primarily on refugee claimants. It meant an end to health coverage while their refugee claim was being considered, and it was felt mostly  by refugee claimants from countries our government arbitrarily designated as safe or non-refugee producing countries. These included countries such as Mexico, where the poor are routinely targeted for discrimination; Hungary, where parliamentary leaders wanted a list of all Jews; and Columbia. So now these desperate folks cannot access potentially lifesaving health care while they await a ruling on their refugee status.

The legislation was was appealed to the Federal Court, which ruled that the cuts were "cruel and unusual" and ordered them stopped. The government then chose, sadly, to appeal, and now a Federal Court of Appeal would not allow any delay in implementing the lower court’s ruling while awaiting an appeal.

We have entered a very dark place in this country where court rulings seem to mean little to this government and where the health and well being of children seem to mean less.

 

John Capobianco:

First off, no one's health will ever be jeopardized, and to suggest that is to unfairly interpret what the government is doing with this particular bill and with the ruling. The government has every right to challenge laws and in this case decided to appeal the ruling. That said, the government will abide by the law (and the ruling) until such time as the appeal process has concluded and will abide by that ruling as well.

Lets be clear about what the government is proposing with their changes to the act. The government wants to ensure fairness in the system by ensuring refugees who are legitimate ("genuine") refugees receive the help and care they need before those who are trying to work the system. They want to ensure there is a fair and just system for health care for Canadians and refugees.

 

Marit Stiles:

John, I think the courts have actually stated quite clearly that there would be suffering as a result of the government’s proposed plan to cut refugee claimants from the Interim Federal Health Program. Indeed, I believe in his dismissal of the stay, Justice Webb says that “harm that would be suffered by those who would have reduced health coverage.” These cuts were cruel and unwarranted. And the government has been told, quite unequivocally, to 'stuff it'

(that's technical speak for go back and undo their plan.)

Look, this is a good day for Canadians because what is right and good has won out against the Conservatives regressive assault on Canadian values. But it is also sad that our courts have to – once again – come down hard against this government’s ill-considered and mean-spirited policies.

It's not the first time. Just look at the court's rulings on everything from mandatory minimums to prostitution to land claims and aboriginal title.

In any case, yet another bad day for the Conservative government but a good day for Canadians and those that -- fleeing persecution and violence -- seek refuge in our country.

 

Bernie Farber:

John, here are a list of the groups that have petitioned the government to stop this attack on refugee health: the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Federation of Nurses’ Unions, The Public Health Physicians of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association, College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, Canadian Psychiatric Association, Canadian Federation of Medical Students, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, Canadian Pediatric Society, Canadian Society of Internal Medicine and the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres.

And many of them have documented cases where refugees have had their health and even potentially their lives impacted by this move.

As for “playing the system,” come on John, you know better than that. Some refugees may be coming from countries with excellent health care but are fleeing for their lives because of repressive regimes. I highly doubt our health care system is top of their minds.

Refugees received care the equivalent to what Canadians on social assistance received, no more. Refugees are a vulnerable population and have few resources. Previous coverage included primary care, prescription drug, important vision and dental. It did not include things like teeth whitening, etc. 

Refugees come to Canada often after suffering unimaginable trauma. The reckless health cuts have had a devastating impact:  pregnant women refused epidurals even during complicated deliveries; children denied asthma inhalers.

Is that the Canada we want?

 

John Capobianco:

You both make strong arguments for keeping the system the way it is and for the right reasons and I respect that. The government wants to ensure that there is a fair and equitable way to treat refugees who have fled countries where they would otherwise not get the healthcare they deserve and need. Granted, you may disagree with the government's approach, but this government has been steadfast in ensuring that decades of flawed immigration practices have been corrected and that those who truly need refuge get it in this country. The health and welfare of those refugees will always be their right and the government will see to that.

The government is simply trying to ensure those who truly need the care get it first. It is before the courts so we will see what comes of the governments appeal.

 

Marit Stiles:

With all due respect, John, I don't believe that these changes were an attempt to correct "flawed immigration practices." This has always been about 'us vs. them' politics. It's the worst kind of divisive politics and the court is not allowing the government to play these cruel games with the health of human beings. Thank goodness.

The government tried to paint this as a means of keeping 'bogus claimants' from gaming the Canadian health care system. Our Minister of Immigration exploited the most terrible stereotypes to make his arguments. I think it's been a real low for this government and I hope the Prime Minister takes this opportunity to back away from what is a really shameful policy. 

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : November 05, 2014

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