Last week, Toronto City Council made history by voting in favour of putting people's health before their immigration status. Canadians may be surprised to learn that the universal healthcare system they consider a shining beacon of our humanity denies healthcare services to an estimated 500,000 people in Canada, of which over 100,000 live in Toronto. A report prepared for the Toronto Board of Health outlines the health crisis for these medically uninsured individuals who reside in Toronto.
Working and volunteering in some of the few clinics where patients can be seen without health cards in Toronto, I have heard the same stories time and time again. I remember the pregnant woman who came to Canada as a live-in caregiver and went months without prenatal care because she lost her status and was worried she would be deported if she went to a health clinic. I remember the middle-aged man who was asked to pay several hundred dollars up front at the registration desk of an emergency room and left because he couldn't afford it allowing his condition to worsen. I remember the young boy who needed heart surgery but had to wait three months while his health deteriorated simply because of the waiting period for new immigrants.
They avoid healthcare because they are afraid they will have to pay. They hope and pray that their health will improve and they won't need any health care services. They get turned away from clinics and hospitals after being asked for money, and if they do go in, they usually leave with massive bills. The system tells them over and over that their health does not matter, all that matters is their immigration status.
In Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, new immigrants who have already waited years to get their immigration status have to wait three months after arriving before they get access to provincial health insurance. This means that a new immigrant could have a heart attack days before getting his health card and have no coverage for his emergency room visit, surgery or hospitalization. Due to recent cuts to refugee health care, claimants from so-called 'safe countries' no longer have access to even basic healthcare services.
Recent changes to the refugee claims process speed up processing times to a few months which will likely lead to an increase in rejected claims due to lack of time to gather evidence. This will only add to the numbers of undocumented and uninsured in our country. Those who are completely undocumented have absolutely no access to healthcare and there have been widely publicized cases of people in Toronto who have died of cancer and been denied access to life-saving surgery or chemotherapy.
Toronto City Council, in its historic decision, has decided to do something about this for those without health insurance that live in our city. Council voted in favour of abolishing the three-month waiting period for new immigrants and also rescinding the recent cuts to the refugee health care program. Not only this, but the council recognized the need to increase funding to the community health centres and primary care clinics already providing care to this population, some using entirely volunteer providers, and others doing so with budgets that can only support a sliver of the total uninsured population.
They also call on hospitals to remove the exorbitant registration fees that serve as a major barrier for people without insurance who may be turned away from care by administrative staff at the emergency room without ever seeing a nurse or doctor. While all this will mean a lot of hard work to advocate to the provinces and feds to make it all happen, these are all very important steps in the right direction. If we are to truly live in a society that claims to provide universal health care, we must provide it to all people residing in Canada in their hour of need. This is literally a matter of life and death, and in this case, the city of Toronto has voted in favour of life. I have never been more proud to call this city my home.
In 1933, Einstein, a prominent German scientist, was accused of treason by the Third Reich. He then sought refuge in the United States.
The founder of psychoanalysis, Freud had to flee to London at 84, after having lived in Austria for 79 years, when Hitler's army attacked Austria.
A German-born American diplomat, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the Secretary of State in the Nixon Administration, Kissinger moved to New York with his family in 1938 after fleeing Nazi persecution.
Albright was a refugee whose family fled Czechoslovakia, first from the Nazis and later from the Communists. Albright went on to become the first female United States Secretary of State.
Grammy winning rapper/musician M.I.A. left Sri Lanka as a refugee from the country's ongoing civil war when she was nine; she moved to a housing project in London.
Born in Cuba, the pop icon fled with her family to Miami, Florida, during the Cuban Revolution.
Anne and her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 after the Nazis gained power in Germany. They were trapped by the occupation of the Netherlands, which began in 1940.
The famous philosopher was expelled from Paris at the end of 1844. He moved to Brussels where he was allowed to express himself in a way he couldn't in other European states.
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