On June 30, 2012, the Conservative government implemented changes to the Interim Federal Health Program. The new directives mean that refugee claimants waiting on appeals, or from a list that the federal government deems safe, no longer have access to important medical services, ranging from insulin for diabetes to treatment after heart attacks.
While the government scaled back some of its proposed cuts on the eve of implementing the changes, advocates for the program have said that the services which continue to be covered account for only two per cent of the former budget.
Speaking at Saturday’s rally, Meili also said the western provinces, other than Saskatchewan, have agreed to cover the costs of treating refugee claimants. He said Saskatchewan people should encourage their provincial government to take on the care of the refugee claimants as well.
Meili lives in Saskatoon’s Riversdale neighbourhood, which is part of Block’s constituency. He is running for the leadership of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party.
Meili’s wife, Dr. Mahili Brindamour-Meili, also spoke. She is a pediatric resident studying at the University of Saskatchewan and working in the Saskatoon Health Region. She is also Co-Chair of the Immigrant and Refugee Health Committee at the University of Saskatchewan.
The committee organized a protest last week which drew doctors, nurses, other health care providers and students. It was called the “59 cent protest” because the money that it cost to provide care for refugee claimants is about 59 cents per taxpayer per year. She said refugee claimants, like all people, “need acceptance and compassion,” particularly because of the violence many have experienced.
Brindamour-Meili told the story of a caller who attacked her for supporting the needs of refugees. She added that in the end, the caller told Brindamour-Meili she should go back to where she came from.
Mark Bigland-Pritchard, a member of a Mennonite congregation, spoke on behalf of his daughter, a university student in Winnipeg. Reading from her letter, Bigland-Pritchard called the statements contained in Block’s newsletter “unhelpful, dishonest and biased.”
A psychologist with the Saskatoon Community Clinic, Dr. Nayyar Javed, described Block as “taking up where Jim Pankew left off.” Pankew is a former Reform Party Member of Parliament. He is best remembered as having made a number of very racist remarks in conversation and writings. Javed went on to say that Block was “not elected to spread hatred.”
Other speakers included representatives of the legal community and labour.
The event, which attracted approximately 500 people, took place under the watchful eye of Saskatoon Police. The crowd was so large that on several occassions it spilled onto the street in front of Block’s office.
Rob is a retired career journalist based in Saskatoon. He has worked in both electronic and print news. This article was originally published on the Media Co-op.