06/27/2012 10:19 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Refugee Health-Care Benefit Cuts: Winnipeg Students Launch Campaign Against Prime Minister (VIDEO)


WINNIPEG - A group of university students in Winnipeg is sending 59 cents to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wants other Canadians to do likewise.

The students at the Canadian School of Peacebuilding at the Canadian Mennonite University say that's all it would cost every Canadian a year to restore health-care benefits to refugees.

Starting Saturday, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will stop paying for supplemental health benefits for refugees during their first year here.

The cuts prompted health-care professionals to rally across Canada, including in Winnipeg at The Forks on June 18.

And it inspired the students to take action — they created a video, now posted on YouTube in which they ask all Canadians to send 59 cents to the Prime Minister's Office "to let him know that we will not stand for these cuts."

It shows people finding loose change in couch cushions and sock drawers, then mailing it to the prime minister.

"We believe that if Canadians stop to consider the effect which these changes will have on the most vulnerable portion of our global society, that our country's annual savings of 59 cents per person to keep the federal Interim Health Program open for refugees will be seen as insignificant," the video says.

Matt Dueck, 25, says the idea came from a small-group assignment at school, which was to devise an advocacy campaign that could quickly and easily be implemented at the grassroots level.

They targeted the Interim Federal Health Care Program cuts that are expected to save $100 million over the next five years. The anticipated saving works out to $20 million a year and, divided by Canada's population, that equals 59 cents per person, Dueck figured.

The goal is to get enough support from the Canadian public that the federal government will reverse its decision to cut supplemental health benefits to refugees during their first year in Canada.

He said they have no political affiliation, just a sense of what's right as citizens of Canada, and they felt strongly enough to make a video, create a web page and use social media to spread the message.

"In 2011, Canada was proudly a place of hope and healing to 25,000 refugees. This is a fact in which we take pride and wish to take pride in for generations to come," the video says.

(Winnipeg Free Press)