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Editorial: Harper denies care to refugees, closes door to Roma

July 2012

What kind of country is Canada becoming under the Stephen Harper Conservatives? Under the stealth of omnibus legislation, and with the virtually unbridled power of its majority, we respectfully paraphrase Shelley to observe: “Look upon these mean-spirited works, and despair.”

A prime example: Under new rules, refugee claimants will be denied free medical care, except for those with such contagious conditions as active tuberculosis, chicken pox, HIV or acute psychosis. And in a not-unrelated development, in spite of strong evidence of blatant discrimination and abuse, Roma refugee claims are being rejected holus bolus and people sent back to Europe.

Both actions recall the mindset, not restricted to Canada, that led to the tragedy of the St. Louis, the steamship that set sail from Hamburg in May 1939 with 937 desperate German Jewish refugees aboard. They were looking for a home, anywhere. They were denied protection in the United States and Canada. Twenty-two gained entry to Cuba, but the rest ended up back in Europe, where about a quarter of the passengers perished in the Holocaust.

Granted, this is not a direct analogy. Still, under rules that came into effect June 30, impoverished and desperate people seeking protection after an often-hazardous journey will no longer have access to primary and preventive care and supplemental coverage available to many low-income Canadians. This restriction adds hurdles to the already perilous “voyage of the damned” many refugee claimants undertake. Many have been raped, beaten and persecuted for religious or political motives.

Removing access to health care to an already disadvantaged group is morally repugnant. It goes against the spirit of the Canada Health Act and should be rescinded. That is why pediatricians at Quebec’s four university teaching hospitals have protested to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney even as they have promised to continue caring for these children. Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc has also stepped in to offer care in a $5-million temporary program.

This cynical move pushed by Kenney, disguised as an attempt to discourage so-called “bogus refugees,” is doing nothing less than shifting responsibility for providing basic care in a refugee process that Ottawa controls onto provincial hands. Those seeking protection should have immediate access to at least the same benefits as provided by provinces and territories to social welfare recipients.

When it comes to the Roma, the recent trend amounts to a “none-is-too-many” attitude by the Immigration and Refugee Board in rejecting most claims, reversing the previous trend of acceptance. Kenney’s stance set that in motion. Lest we forget the background: the genocide of Roma populations during the Second World War.

In the words of Holocaust scholar Yehudah Bauer: “In sheer demonic cold blooded brutality the tragedy of the Romanies is one of the most terrible indictments of the Nazis…that the mutilated Romany nation continues to be vilified and persecuted to this day should put all their host nations to shame.”

We applaud the Toronto Board of Rabbis, which raised their plight in a letter to Stephen Harper protesting against his government’s designating some countries, such as Hungary, as safe and democratic and therefore non-producers of refugees.

We support their statement:

“We cannot stand silent as people’s health is put in danger, and their right to Canadian citizenship cast into question due to their country of origin or mode of arrival.”



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