John Bonnar

BY JOHN BONNAR, June 29, 2016

They came for the temporary foreign worker who got injured and died because he didn’t qualify for Ontario health insurance coverage.

For the 18-year-old woman with sickle cell anemia who waited outside the emergency room until she passed out before finally being attended to by medical staff.

For the man who came to Canada, developed colon cancer and died because he was denied life saving treatment.

For the young Filipina woman who was between temporary foreign worker contracts and wasn’t able to access healthcare when she was pregnant.

And they came for the 200,000 other Ontarians who can’t access healthcare because of their immigration status.

“We no longer want to see the denial of healthcare to people on the basis of their immigration status,” said Dr. Ritika Goel, a family physician and a member of OHIP for All, a group of concerned health care providers, community organizations, and community members calling for the provision of OHIP for all.

“And all of us can be in this situation including new immigrants when they first arrive, temporary foreign workers between contracts or working part-time, international students attending colleges, non-status pending inland sponsorships, humanitarian claims.

“And it even includes returning Canadian citizens if they leave the country for a period of time.”

OHIP for All isn’t just calling for healthcare coverage for everyone living in the province because they believe it’s unjust and immoral for anyone to become sicker or die because they were denied treatment.

“We know we can prevent downstream consequences and costs,” said Goel at the OHIP for All rally held in Toronto outside the Ministry of Health on Tuesday afternoon. “Why not have somebody see their primary care provider to treat their high blood pressure? Why wait for them to have a stroke? That’s not fair to them and it’s not really a great plan for our system.”

In late April 2012, when the federal government announced cuts to health insurance for refugees, Ontario filled the gap.

“And we’re asking once more for the province to fill the gap,” said Goel.

In a media release, the Council of Canadians said that during the Tuesday morning rush hour they dropped banners off overpasses in Toronto and set up a pirate radio station for commuters to learn more about the 200,000 Ontarians without access to public health insurance.

At noon, rallies were held across Ontario in Toronto, Hamilton, London, Kitchener, Mississauga, Peterborough, and Ottawa, to demand that the Ontario government provide needed health care support to everyone.

“Our patchwork system in Ontario leaves too many people behind,” said Michael Butler, Health Care Campaigner with the Council of Canadians, who spoke at the Toronto OHIP For All rally.

“It devastates families and leads to negative health outcomes. In a province that prides itself on being welcoming to newcomers, it is time the government put its money where its mouth is and provide the fundamental health coverage every human deserves.”

Including people like Astra Cenona Desembrana, who came to Canada under the live-in caregiver program.

After her OHIP coverage expired, she was told she needed a full time job even though her two part-time jobs were the equivalent in terms of hours worked.

Without OHIP coverage, she wasn’t able to fill her blood pressure medication prescription from June until November last year.

“The experience here in Canada is so frustrating because I’m not expecting it,” she said.

The OHIP for All campaign is endorsed by over 400 individuals and organizations, including The Council of Canadians, The Association of Ontario Midwives, The Association of Ontario Health Centres, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, and Toronto Public Health.

Angela Robertson, the Executive Director, Queen West Community Health Centre, has been recognized by Toronto’s Now Magazine as one of the top 10 community activists on social justice issues, has received the Rubena Willis Women of Distinction Award for her work on violence against women, and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations Awards for her work on equality and social justice issues.

“Uninsured people are created,” said Robertson. “They’re manufactured by a series of policies that we have and that is why we’re here today.”

Less than an hour after completing a draining chemotherapy session, Adil Yousif came to the rally to tell his story to the crowd assembled on the front steps at 900 Bay Street.

After five years living in Ontario without OHIP or a humanitarian application accepted, he finally qualified for the Interim Federal Health Program which provides limited, temporary coverage of health-related benefits.

“His diabetes was left unchecked for five years, he has leukaemia and we couldn’t budge anybody in this province to give him healthcare,” said Dr. Paul Caulford, who provides healthcare to the uninsured in a volunteer clinic he co-founded.

“His left leg is now at risk. He has an ulcer on his right toe that was untreated and now has a bone infection in the leg and he’s five years behind on his chemotherapy. And he suffers from chronic kidney disease from untreated hypertension.

“This is the danger of the grotesqueness of not giving healthcare to people who need it and when they need it.”

Working until last month and paying taxes, Yousif wasn’t receiving any Ontario healthcare benefits.

“Everywhere I went I was told I couldn’t stay unless I paid cash for it at the hospital,” said Yousif.

“And it was too expensive to pay those bills with the kind of money I was making.”

Fortunately, he was referred to Dr. Caulford’s volunteer clinic for the uninsured. Others aren’t as lucky. After working twenty years in Ontario with a social insurance number but without health insurance, another man lost his leg due to complications from diabetes.

“I got sick and ended up in the hospital,” said Yousif. “But I really didn’t know if anybody was going to help me. And the hospital came to me for their money.”

That’s when Yousif learned that he had leukaemia and needed treatment.


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