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Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care petitioned rock star Bono to use meeting with Stephen Harper to speak on behalf of refugees

Canadian doctors urge Bono to push Harper on refugee health benefits

GLORIA GALLOWAY

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published 

Last updated 

Canadian doctors petitioned Irish rock star Bono to use a meeting with Stephen Harper to speak on behalf of refugees in Canada whose health care has been cut by the Conservative government.

In an open letter to the U2 front man and anti-poverty activist, who met privately on Monday with the Prime Minister and opposition leaders, three co-founders of the group Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care (CDRC) say many refugees are going without necessary care as a result of the government’s three-year-old decision to remove their health benefits.

CP Video Jun. 16 2015, 8:51 AM EDT

U2 performed in concert in Montreal over the weekend, and Bono took a side trip to Ottawa to talk with Mr. Harper about international aid for maternal and child care – an issue the Prime Minister has said is close to his heart and for which the Canadian government has pledged $3.5-billion over five years.

“At the time of your meeting with Prime Minister Harper to discuss maternal and child health care in developing countries, the CDRC will be holding its fourth national day of action with events in 20 cities calling on the Prime Minister to restore health services to pregnant women and children refugees in this country,” the doctors wrote. “We respectfully encourage you to raise these issues in your meeting with Prime Minister Harper.”

Bono did not stop to talk with reporters when his closed-door talks with the politicians ended, so it is not known how he responded to the request.

In 2012, the Conservative government eliminated all medical coverage for some asylum seekers and cut the supplemental benefits – including payments for prescription drugs and vision care – of many others. Doctors said at that time the cuts left vulnerable refugees without care.

Last year, a Federal Court judge struck down the Conservative changes to the refugees’ health benefits, saying they violated the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that forbid cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. The judge gave the government four months to reinstate the program.

In response, the government reversed the cuts for children under the age of 19 and for pregnant women, but other refugees remain without coverage. The government is also appealing the court decision.

“Now, this government is going back to court using taxpayer dollars – $1.4 million and counting – to take those health benefits away from pregnant women and refugee children once again,” Doug Gruner, a physician and one of the co-signers of the letter, told a news conference on Monday.

When asked about the government’s decision to appeal the Federal Court ruling, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told the House of Commons that refugees in Canada continue to receive health care from the federal government.

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Open letter to Bono from Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care
Re: meeting with Prime Minister Harper on maternal health and federal government cuts to health care for pregnant women and children refugees

June 14, 2015

Greetings,

We are three co-founders of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care (CDRC), a non- partisan group of physicians fighting for access to health care for refugees. We admire and appreciate your advocacy work on the subject of maternal health, and would like to make you aware of an urgent, related issue in advance of your meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on June 15th. In 2012, the federal Conservative government led by Prime Minister Harper cut health care services to thousands of refugees seeking safety in Canada, including pregnant women and children. These cuts are opposed by more than 20 national health care organizations. In spite of repeated requests, CDRC has been refused meetings with senior members of the government to discuss this issue and the evidence we compiled on the effects of the cuts, namely that many refugees are going without necessary care, creating dangerous situations and increased costs to the public health system. In 2014, the Federal Court of Canada found these cuts to be unconstitutional, declaring them “cruel and unusual” and a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government is appealing this decision however.

At the time of your meeting with Prime Minister Harper to discuss maternal and child health in developing countries, the CDRC will be holding its 4th National Day of Action with events in 20 Canadian cities calling on the Prime Minister to restore health services to pregnant women and children refugees in this country.

Many refugees come to Canada with little more than the clothes on their back, providing basic, necessary health services to them – especially pregnant women and children – is the responsible thing to do. As you have noted in the past “The world needs more Canada”, and there is something Canada can do about maternal health right now: it can restore the cuts to refugee health care and help people fleeing crisis situations. We respectfully encourage you to raise these issues in your meeting with Prime Minister Harper. We would also be pleased to host you at our National Day of Action event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa between Noon and 1 pm Monday. Thank you for your consideration of this request and please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Doug Gruner – cell: 613.795.9904
Dr. Philip Berger – cell: 647.896.1191
Dr. Meb Rashid – cell: 416.315.1270

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