Saturday 15 December 2012

Vigil, December 15 2012

Thank you to everyone who braved the cold weather to give voice to our collective opposition to the IFH cuts and Bill C-31.  Today is a shameful day in Canadian history, the day that Bill C-31 came into full effect. We had an excellent turnout for something organized in two days and which also took place in freezing and damp weather! It shows that there is a lot of energy and grassroots support around these issues. Perhaps the most poignant moment was when we heard the story of a family who fled political imprisonment, torture and possible death and now have a member trying to survive in Canada without vital medications because of these cuts. We were asked "What is the difference between Canada and the country we came from, that in Canada we are killed more slowly?"

There are many difficult questions Canadians must ask themselves right now. What is Canada's role in forcing global migration?  Where does Canada's wealth come from? What kind of society do we wish to live in-one where people suffer and die needlessly because some politicians wanted to score a few cheap political points?  Please stay in touch as we move with momentum into 2013 and continue to build the strength of our communities to practice an ethic of solidarity and demand health justice for all people!

Our friends from also attended and spoke, including Jose Figueroa and his son Jose Ivan Figueroa who is developing into a very talented young speaker! Please make sure to check out their important and very touching campaign.

This was part of a coordinated national Day of Action and we will be sharing media coverage of events in other cities once it is available.

 Near the beginning, if you have a picture showing the fuller crowd send it along! :)
The "Cards For Kenney" station where people wrote holiday greeting cards to Jason Kenney with messages such as "All I want for the holidays is... insulin for diabetics!" etc.  This is part of a national campaign. "Cards for Kenney" video on Youtube.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

How do we decolonize healthcare?

The struggle for health justice for refugees and migrants is intimately connected to the struggle for health justice for indigenous peoples in Canada.  There is a direct relationship between the ongoing colonization of indigenous peoples/territories and Canadian policy toward refugees, migrants and all other immigrants.  In fact, when it was founded in 1917 Citizenship and Immigration Canada was actually called the "Department of Immigration and Colonization." Additionally, many refugees and migrants are themselves indigenous people who have been forced away from their homes by historical events and economic situations that Canadian corporations and the Canadian government have played a direct role in creating.

This week the Health Council of Canada released a report called Empathy, dignity, and respect: Creating cultural safety for Aboriginal people in urban health care. The report has received some press coverage because it addresses the fact that indigenous people in Canada  face very serious barriers to medical care, sometimes including explicitly racist treatment by medical staff.  Sanctuary Health encourages all healthcare workers to become champions of transformative change in the medical system by challenging and resisting racism in any form. It is impossible to be neutral-we either oppose racism in our medical system or participate in sustaining it. Indifference and injustice have the same relationship as oxygen and fire. Let's take a stand for health justice and participate in positively shaping the cultures of our workplaces. As we begin to listen to the voices of refugees, migrants and indigenous communities, and as we begin to find our own voices, we begin to find the power to change our world!

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Friday 2 November 2012

Dia de los Muertos Vigil


November 1, 2012 
Community gathers for Dia de los Muertos Vigil to mourn life-threatening refugee health care cuts

Vancouver, BC:  On Thursday evening community members, health care workers, refugees and migrants gathered in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) vigil, to oppose recent cuts to refugee health care.  “Dia de los Muertos is a prehispanic celebration to honour our ancestors. We are also using it to celebrate resistance and honour fallen immigrants and refugees” explains organizer Alejandra Lopez.  The crowd mourned the recent death of the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP). Flowers and banners were carried in a candlelit procession through the Downtown Eastside to mark opposition to this change, which denies most refugees access to basic health care. 

The event was organized by Sanctuary Health, a grassroots organization that formed in opposition to the health care cuts, and by members of the Latin American community.  On June 30, 2012 the Federal government made drastic changes to the IFHP.  These cuts deny approximately 95% of refugees in Canada access to all primary and preventative health care.  The Conservative government has promoted the cuts as only denying non-urgent health care – but in fact they include essentials such as prenatal care for pregnant women and life-saving medications such as insulin. 

As community nurse Natalie Blair noted “I am being asked to let someone go blind when it could have been prevented”.  She is one of many health care workers across the country who have refused to cooperate with the cuts and have been active in vocalizing resistance.  Those in opposition claim the cuts violate basic human rights, are rooted in racism, and threaten the lives of refugees.   The Harper government and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney have been criticized for pushing forward aggressive and anti-immigrant policies. “These cuts represent the politics of division.  The government has made a choice to divert money away from the most marginalized people.  This is making people sick and forcing them to live in fear” said Martha Roberts, a midwife and member of Alliance for Peoples Health, as she addressed the crowd. 

Sanctuary Health is collecting signatures for a petition demanding that the health care cuts be reversed and that all migrants have access to health care.   They will continue to organize against these cuts and other policies preventing refugees and migrants from accessing health care.  More information about Sanctuary Health and these initiatives can be found at  

photo courtesy of Eugene Kung

photo courtesy of Eugene Kung

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Photographs by Eugene Kung

Friday 19 October 2012

We are all human, we all get injured, we all get sick:
Health Care is a Right for Everyone

A Refugee is any person who is forced to leave their home country for life-saving reasons.   Canada is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 UN Protocol on the Status of Refugees and has in the past been a global leader in the provision of respectful treatment of those seeking refuge – this is changing quickly.

The recent drastic changes to the Interim Federal Health Program now deny approximately 95% of refugees in Canada all access to primary and preventative health care as well as the supplemental health care that is provided for many low-income Canadians.  The Conservative government has promoted the cuts as only removing health care “extras” – but prenatal care, medicine, lab testing and the other affected services are vital elements of good healthcare.

Most refugees can now only access medical care in cases of life-threatening emergency.  Refugees who are from “Designated Countries of Origin” (DCO) cannot even access these limited emergency-only services.  A DCO is anywhere that Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, says is a ‘safe’ place – as we all know, no country can be safe for every person.

The only health services that all refugees are now technically entitled to are in cases of ‘public health concern’ (someone with a highly infectious disease) or ‘public security concern’ (someone with a psychotic condition that the state or a doctor considers dangerous to the public).  This policy basically says that refugee medical care should only be provided to protect “us” from “them”, pitting people who have citizenship in Canada against those who have less secure status in this country.  

These cuts will leave many people sick and injured without proper care, overloading the already overcrowded emergency rooms and forcing the provinces to pick up the bill.  Ultimately this creates a kind of medical apartheid, where some people are “worth” health care while people who are actually among those most in need are abandoned.

The situation is also dire for migrant workers.  Workers brought to Canada under programs like the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program are forced to purchase private insurance which is often not honoured when they need to use it at clinics and hospitals.  These workers are vulnerable because they have no permanent status in Canada. They are often exposed to dangerous and unhealthy working and living conditions.  Sometimes they get sick or injured on the job, and employers may attempt to have them deported because this is cheaper than reporting to Worksafe/WCB.

These changes are happening at a time when all immigrants (even those who have permanent residency or citizenship), refugees and undocumented people in Canada are facing policies of increased scrutiny and widespread threats of deportation.  Health-care providers and community groups across the country are organizing to support refugees, migrants and undocumented people’s health care needs, despite the Federal Government’s cruel actions.

We believe in health care for all, provided as a human right regardless of where you are from or how much money you have!

Dia de los Muertos

Sanctuary Health: United for Refugee and Migrant Health is coordinating with our friends in the Latin American community to celebrate the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is an event open to all members of our communities to honour our friends and family who have died. We will also be noting the death of Interim Federal Health benefits for most refugees in Canada and recent changes in Canadian law and government policy that threaten the lives and wellbeing of refugees and migrants in our communities.  Please join us outside First United Church (Hastings and Gore) for  a procession through the neighbourhood.

Where: Meet near First United Church at Hastings and Gore, Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories
When: 6:00pm Thursday November 1

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Candlelight Vigil Thursday, August 2, 2012 from 6-8pm

 Sanctuary Health will be holding a candlelight vigil in respect of migrants and refugees who can no longer access health care in Canada as a result of the recent Interim Federal Health Care Cuts that were implemented on July 1, 2012. 

Please join us to demonstrate to the Harper Government that these health care cuts are not representative of Canadian values and that we will not be silent while members of our communities cannot access basic health care.
Date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 
Time: 6-8pm
Place: St. Paul's Hospital- Burrard St. side- exact location to be announced.

Monday 16 July 2012


On June 30, 2012, the federal government made drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which provides provides temporary healthcare to refugees and refugee claimants in Canada. The IFHP cuts are intimately tied to the recent federal legislation Bill C-31 (popularly known as the Refugee Exclusion Act), which will create an immigration system that discriminates against refugee claimants based on their nationality. Those fleeing from countries deemed “safe” by the government will not be considered legitimate refugees and will not receive health coverage, except in health emergencies that pose a risk to public health or public safety.

About us

We are a grassroots organization that formed in response to Bill C-31 and the IFHP cuts. We are an alliance of health care providers and service professionals, refugees and migrants, representatives from organizations supporting refugees and migrants, and concerned members of the public.

We believe access to healthcare is a fundamental right for all people including refugees and migrants. We recognize that Canadian communities have been built from a history of immigration and we cannot privilege certain migrant groups over others. We support and respect diversity, oppose discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, or country of origin.

Migrant rights is an issue of justice. Forced migration is the result of interlocking social, political, and economic factors, such as war and severe unemployment, and we recognize Canada’s role in both upholding and challenging these factors. We therefore support the full inclusion of migrants into Canada and just relationships between Canada and the international community. Our definition of migrants includes refugees, refugee claimants, migrant workers, and undocumented people residing in Canada, and landed immigrants.

We believe that health care must continue to be publicly provided. Our public health care system must be expanded to provide comprehensive care and improve the health of everyone in Canada, both newcomers and native-born. Funding for health care (and other social services) is essential to health and thriving communities and must take precedence. Although the federal Conservative government claims the IFHP changes will lead to cost savings of $20 million per year, these cuts will only increase health care costs as care is diverted from primary care preventive settings to acute emergency care and hospital treatment.

  • We advocate for full access to health care for all refugee and migrant communities, actively opposing Bill C-31 and the cuts to IFHP.
  • We monitor and raise awareness of the impacts of the IFHP cuts. 
  • We identify available services within the health system and disseminate these resources to refugee and migrant communities.
  • We promote the creation of safe spaces for migrants within the health system and aim to remove all systemic and cultural barriers to health services in our communities.
  • We work in solidarity with migrants and migrant groups in challenging systemic oppression, particularly those that create barriers to accessing health services.