Vancouver demonstrators mourn cuts to refugee health care at Day of the Dead vigil

Demonstrators carrying candles and placards walked through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Thursday (November 1) in continued protest of cuts to a federal health program for refugees.

The candlelight vigil was timed to coincide with the Latin American holiday Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Protestors, some with their faces painted to mark the tradition, said the march was meant to signify the “death” of the former version of Canada’s Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).

Tom Warren, an organizer with the grassroots group Sanctuary Health, referred to IFHP as a “zombie program”, following recent changes to the health-care coverage that was extended to refugees.

“Right now it exists for government-assisted refugees,” he said in an interview on East Hastings Street. “That’s a very small portion of the total number of people who make refugee claims in Canada. Everyone else is still left out in the cold in various forms.”

In June, the federal government announced changes to the program, which provides temporary coverage of health-care costs to refugees and refugee claimants who are not eligible for provincial health plans.

Describing the reform as a measure intended to discourage unfounded refugee claims, the federal government made cuts to supplemental health benefits that initially appeared to affect all categories of refugees. They later stated that government-assisted refugees will continue to receive expanded health-care coverage.

Other groups, such as most privately sponsored refugees and refugee claimants who are waiting for their claim to be processed, will receive coverage for services of an urgent or essential nature, and will have prescriptions covered only if they are being treated for a condition posing a risk to public safety.

According to members of Sanctuary Health, the cuts mean many refugees are still unable to access medications, as well as services such as prenatal care and lab testing.

“In a lot of cases, for illnesses such as HIV for example, we have to go to the clinic and get diagnostic exams and lab results,” registered nurse Natalie Blair said in an interview. “People aren’t being able to access that, and so they don’t know what care they need.”

She added that some people affected by the cuts have been too afraid to go to a clinic to access services.

“People are in the community suffering and are not even seeking assistance to know what they are able to get help for,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest issues here is misinformation to health-care workers, as well as to the people that are being affected by the health-care cuts.”

Organizers with the group said they plan to hold further vigils to draw attention to the changes to the federal health program.

Comments (11) Add New Comment
Tom Warren
I would like to clarify my "zombie program" statement just to say that while I think this is an apt description of the current state of the IFHP (the government sought to lessen the controversy by not abolishing the program outright, but has essentially eviscerated it), I regret my phrasing given that it was made at the Day of the Dead event, which is not about "zombies" but could be mistaken as such by outsiders. This potential association only entered my mind today when reading my words.
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poopedinpantsagain
I think its gonna be hard to rally support for a program that provides better benefits than most employed people in Canada receive.
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Tom Warren
poopedinpantsagain, I agree it's hard, but it's the right thing to do. First, despite government rhetoric, the cuts have effected a lot more than "just" dental, optical and prescriptions. Second, all people in Canada should be struggling to make these "supplemental" forms of medical care a part of our universal healthcare system. There is no sound medical justification to not include things like dental care in our MSP. We will all be healthier when we stop saying "I don't get this thing, so that person shouldn't get that thing either" and start saying "we demand full healthcare for all."
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Lewis
We can't afford "Non-Refugee" healthcare.
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Jimney
Why would anyone do anything if all their needs were taken care of by the Govt?...there has to be some sort of motivation to improve ones lot in society or nothing would get done.
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bobo
How about taking care of the people who actually pay taxes first?
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Terrible Tim
These protesters have very little support.

They are demanding that Canadians foot the medical bills for people who are neither citizens, nor immigrants, nor accepted refugees. Why should we do this?

If we are going to be covering the bills, let's do it for First Nations people first. They were here 3000 years before us. They are not refugees. They live in often dismal circumstances, and lead lives impaired by malnourishment, tuberculosis, obesity, alcoholism, and diabetes.

If these protesters actually cared about people, they would serve the first among us: aboriginals.

Foolishly, they ignore them. Instead, they focus on people who have no legal status in Canada whatsoever. Most Canadians are not interested in subsidizing illegals.

Real Canadians, and aboriginal Canadians especially, come first.
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Thyme Season
It is immoral to give more to strangers than to your own people.
We have zero responsibility for other nations. Take care of Canada first (education, roads, health, seniors who have worked hard, etc.) and only after that, if there is money left, help the world...
Enough with this stupid thinking: let's bring the poor to Canada and we'll solve the world's poverty issues.
Wake up, people. Each nation has to take their destiny into their own hands, instead of relying upon outside/foreign help.
Look at Haiti. We gave them money for decades and...? All they want is to come to Canada...
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Rainy Day
I think some of you have missed the humanitarian aspect in all of this. A woman who is pregnant, for example, needs health care on a regular basis to have the best possible outcome for her child. Just because she doesn't pay taxes doesn't mean she doesn't have the human right to health care.And we have the health care here in Canada that is not found in developing countries.
What do all of you think about Canada sending millions in foreign aid to countries who are suffering due to drought, floods, earthquakes, civil unrest.....
I agree that First Nations communities and Indigenous populations off reserve need to have full access to good health care - yes they were here first and we are the colonizers who diminished their culture and strength.
In denying people - any people- health care you are promoting and maintaining systemic racism in a country where some of you are able to make free choices. Living in poverty and daily suffering from discrimination and oppression based on your lack of resources is another form or genocide.
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Terrible Tim
Rainy Day misses the point entirely.

It is a good and righteous thing to join the other industrial economies in providing food and medical aid to Third World nations. Those unhappy places, plagued by internal corruption and civil disorder, have proved incapable of governing themselves. Failed states like Somalia, the Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan and so many more have never been able to rise beyond tribalism -- and corruption on a vast scale.

But we help these people in their own countries. We don't bring them here.

There are six billion people on the planet. Very few countries are as prosperous and well-managed, safe and stable, as Canada. Opening our doors to the five billion who would like to live here is impossible. Unaffordable. Suicidal.

And that's the problem that the pseudo-refugee camp would create for us. 95% of Canadians say NO. No way. Never.

Thanks to Tommy Douglas and the NDP, we have one of the great health care systems in the world. Our FIRST duty is to make sure that EVERY Canadian has full access. And that includes Aboriginal Canadians.

Until we have provided 100% access to First Nations Canadians, we have no business spending those sums on non-Canadians. Our own people come first, and we have done a damn poor job of making it so.

When is the last time these pro-refugee people were on a reserve in Northern Manitoba? Northern Quebec? Nunavut? The medical service levels there are unacceptable.

You have NO BUSINESS diverting health money from First Canadians to people who aren't Canadians at all.

The vast majority of Canadians believe in this principle, and reject yours.
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Martin Dunphy
Terrible Tim and Rainy:

Just so this call-and-response doesn't get spiralling...
I think everyone can agree that no health-care monies bound for First Nations people are being, or have ever been proposed to be, diverted to refugee claimants.

It is not an either/or situation.

Yes, the conditions in some First Nations communities are deplorable. But don't allow a lack of political will and/or outright racism to thwart Canadians' laudable history of reaching out to the world's less fortunate.
As long as we allow refugee claimants, we should afford them the same basic health-care services we provide to anyone.
If the disagreement is in from where we allow purported refugees to apply for this status, that is a political issue.
And, meanwhile, yes: the shameful way this country treats some of those who remain on the pitiful remote "reserves" that have been set aside for them, in most cases begrudgingly, needs to be addressed.
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