07/19/2012 03:06 EDT | Updated 09/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Leona Aglukkaq Interrupted By Protest Of Refugee Health Cuts

HAMILTON - Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has become the latest federal cabinet minister to be interrupted during a funding announcement event by critics of recent changes to Canada's refugee system.

Aglukkaq had just announced $7 million in bone health research projects at McMaster University in Hamilton, when two people stood up to protest recent cuts to a federal program that provides extended health-care benefits to refugee claimants.

The two local health care providers, who were calm and polite as they addressed the minister, said the cuts put the health and lives of patients at risk and called for an immediate moratorium.

Aglukkaq replied she believes cutting health benefits to failed claimaints is only fair and what Canadian taxpayers would expect.

She added she doesn't think many Canadians were even aware that for years, those denied entry were covered by tax dollars.

The policy, which strips refugee claimants of access to pharmaceutical, dental and vision coverage and also limits other forms of coverage, was announced in April.

Originally, it divided refugee claimants into two groups based on the status of their claim and country of origin. Neither would receive extended benefits.

Those whose claim is rejected or who are from a yet-to-be defined list of countries would only receive health care if there was a public health or safety risk.

The government has since amended the policy to provide for a third group of refugee claimants who are covered by a federal program that provides financial and other assistance.

They will receive the extended benefits as long as they are covered by that program.

The government argues the changes were designed to discourage bogus refugee claims.

A protester was briefly arrested on the weekend after interrupting Immigration Minister Jason Kenney at Conservative party barbecue in Edmonton.

And a news conference following the announcement of Canada's flag bearer last week was briefly interrupted by a doctor protesting the cuts. (CHML)

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