Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take this opportunity to revisit the issue of devastating cuts to the health care of refugee claimants that I have raised during question period.
The government cuts to the interim federal health care program have resulted in confusion over who is covered and who is not.
What we do know is that some of Canada's most vulnerable people are going to suffer from serious health problems because of this government.
Now the government is creating different classes of refugees.
If the government had conducted consultations, it would have known that these cuts will actually lead to increased long-term costs as we provide emergency services to people for health issues that likely could have been prevented.
For over 56 years, Canada has provided health care to refugee claimants under the interim federal health program. The program covered the cost of basic health services for refugee claimants until they were eligible for provincial health care or were not accepted as refugees.
Despite the crucial role this program played, especially in covering the cost of basic medication, the Conservatives have once against shown that they are only too happy to abandon the most vulnerable people in Canada.
That is what happened on April 5, 2012, when without even consulting stakeholder groups, the Conservatives announced drastic cuts to the benefits available to refugee claimants. While they claim that they are still providing care to refugee claimants, the new program does not even include things like life-sustaining medication, which could lead to worse scenarios.
These cuts have created situations like one that I have had to work with in my constituency office. In this case a claimant was actually refused coverage for his dialysis treatment, which pushed him off the transplant list. Thankfully, his coverage was reinstated through the good work of my office, but he is on the line for the cost of treatment for the period he was cut off.
Is this how the Conservatives treat some of the most vulnerable populations in Canada?
However, that is not all. If the minister designates a claimant's country of origin as safe, then refugee claimants from that country receive no coverage at all, unless their health poses a risk to Canadians.
This is yet another example of arbitrary powers being placed in the hands of ministers, something that has become more and more common with the current government.
In fact, the cuts to refugee health care are so misguided that the government is facing several challenges by stakeholders and related groups. Only last week, a legal challenge was launched on behalf of the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. They argued these cuts violate fundamental human rights that are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In addition to that, eight health care organizations have joined forces to urge the government to reconsider the cuts to the program. A letter from these organizations to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism states:
To ensure the health and well-being of our society's most vulnerable population, and in line with our country's principles of compassion and inclusiveness, we urge your further reconsideration to ensure that the Interim Federal Health Benefit continues to provide extended health coverage for all refugees. Just as hardships and health issues do not distinguish between sub-categories of refugees, neither should the program.
What is clear is that these cuts put doctors and health care professionals in a horrible position: their gut and their Hippocratic oath tell them to do the right thing, while government policies that are designed to try to attract votes order them to do something different, to the detriment of the patient.
Cutting health care funding for refugee claimants creates inequalities among an already vulnerable population. The policy ignores the benefits of preventive medicine, which could lead to mounting costs associated with treating dire medical emergencies.
Denying health care to refugee claimants represents a major shift in Canada's long history of respecting human rights and providing universal access to health care. Will the government finally show Canadians that it cares about the most vulnerable populations and restore funding to health care for all refugee claimants retroactively?