The message is being delivered loud and clear — Canada’s medical community is not going to let the federal government off the hook for its perceived attempt to limit the provision of medical care to refugees.
The 4th Annual National Day of Action was held June 15 to call for the overdue reversal of cuts to refugee health care in Canada. For the first time, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) was a direct participant in the activities.
“The federal government’s cuts to health services for refugees residing in this country – some of whom may have just escaped war, violence or famine – are not consistent with the Canada that I know,” said CMA President Chris Simpson. “It is time for the federal government to reverse the changes and provide the care for refugees that they deserve.”
The protest represents the fourth time national medical organizations led by Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care (CDRC) have collectively spoken out against the federal government for its decision to cut the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).
Last July, the Federal Court of Canada ruled the IFHP cuts were “cruel and unusual” and mandated creation of a temporary program to provide care for many of the affected refugees. However, the federal government has appealed that decision and physicians note that despite the temporary program many are still being denied necessary medical services.
According to a CMAJ news report on the North American Refugee Health Conference that was held in Toronto in early June, several studies have shown refugees legally entitled to federally funded health care are now being turned away from scores of clinics in Montreal and Toronto.
"We're hearing stories of people – including pregnant women – being turned away from hospitals because the hospitals don't understand the coverage,” Dr. Meb Rashid, co-founder of CDRC, was quoted as saying. “We're seeing massive confusion stemming from the government's legal manoeuvres."
During the day of protest, a news conference was held on Parliament Hill featuring the CMA president and representatives from several other organizations including the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS), Canadian Nurses Association and Canadian Pediatric Society.
In a prepared statement, CFMS stated in part: “Denying necessary treatment to some of the most vulnerable members of society contravenes the principles that inspired us to practise medicine in Canada.
“Cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program only serve to shift the financial burden to community hospitals, regional health authorities and provinces/territories that may or may not be able to provide care. This … creates gaps in the system, resulting in untreated sickness that may lead newcomers to turn to our already crowded emergency departments.“
Events associated with the Day of Action were held in at least 20 cities across the country with widespread participation, especially from medical students — both in person and through social media.