Immigration minister taking cues from wrong guy on refugee health

It looks like Immigration Minister Chris Alexander is mimicking his predecessor's mean-spirited approach to public policy and fact-challenged communications strategy.

Like Jason Kenney before him, Alexander has decided to go to war with the provinces over the Conservative government's widely panned decision last year to cut off health-care services for many refugees. 

Pitting Canadians against refugee claimants, Alexander's spokesperson Alexis Pavlich told the Ottawa Citizen this week that Canadians don't want "asylum claimants from safe countries receiving better health care benefits from Canadian taxpayers." So if Ontario believes these kind of people deserve special treatment, "they are free to pay for it themselves."

(Last month, the Ontario government announced they were extending basic health care coverage to refugee claimants and would be sending the feds the bill. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia are also filling in the gap in coverage after the feds decided to deny basic, emergency and life-saving medical care to refugee claimants who have lawfully sought Canada’s protection.)

Setting aside the bogus argument that, under the old system, refugee claiments were receiving higher level of health coverage than low-income Canadians, Alexander is following the lead of Kenney, who falsely claimed that the old "gold plated" program served "bogus" refugee claimants.

Instead of taking his cues from Kenney, Alexander should listen to what experts and front-line medical professionals have to say. Here's a sampling:

Queen's University law professor Sharry Aiken:

It’s appalling and it’s just very clear to me that we’re putting the rights of children and families at serious risk.

Mark Tyndall, professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division:

These cuts were a kind of natural experiment in human misery: to take people who have endured unimaginable physical and psychological trauma and see how well they manage without basic health services.

Bruyere Medical Centre family physician Doug Gruner:

This is a bad policy. This is bad for the health of refugees, this is bad for the health of Canadians for our own public health and this is bad for the taxpayer. This will cost taxpayers dramatically more money. 

Physicians Meb Rashid and Philip Berger, founding members of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care:

Refugee claimants from 'designated countries of origin' or so-called safe countries (for example the Roma in Hungary) are lawfully within our borders, following the rules, awaiting their refugee determination hearing. They are not failed (or 'bogus') claimants unless they are unsuccessful at their hearing.

 Wellesley Institute:

The new system creates confusion, lessens access to health care services among vulnerable populations, leads to inconsistency in care across Canada, and results in poorer health and avoidable illness for refugees and refugee claimants.

Photo: ScottMontrealUsed under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence. 

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