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When Nell Toussaint came to Canada as a 30-year-old woman from Grenada in 1999, she did not know that a decade later she would end up in the emergency room of a Toronto hospital. She did not know she would be denied an ultrasound for a blood clot in her leg that would eventually turn life-threatening. And she did not know that one day, being denied care by this country’s health-care system would impair her mobility, vision and ability to speak, and lead to the United Nations condemning Canada for discriminating against her based on her immigration status.
This month, on International Migrants Day, more than 1,500 members of the health community and more than 80 organizations came together to express outrage over the continued denial of health care to people like Toussaint. We join the signatories in calling for all people in Canada to be able to access health care as a human right, regardless of immigration status.
For almost two decades, Toussaint lived in Canada with precarious immigration status, working minimum-wage temporary jobs and contributing to Canada’s tax and social-security systems, while attempting to apply for permanent residency.
On multiple occasions where she required emergency health care, Toussaint was forced to pay out-of-pocket, though she was barely making ends meet. She became unable to work due to her increasingly poor health, which required even more extensive medical treatment; she was unable to afford these services at the exact time she most needed them.
Toussaint turned to Canada’s Interim Federal Health Program for coverage, but was denied repeatedly, even after challenging the decision at the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal.
Toussaint was finally granted permanent residency and thus access to provincial insurance in 2013, but due to the egregious denial of care she faced and the health consequences she has endured as a result, five years later, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) condemned Canada for violating her rights to life and freedom from discrimination.
In addition to requiring that Toussaint be compensated for the harm she has suffered, the UNHRC has called on Canada to overhaul its legislation on access to health care for those with precarious immigration status and is expecting to hear back from our government within 180 days of its July 24, 2018, decision.
In Canada, many believe we have a universal health-care system and consider it a point of national pride. In reality, an estimated half million adults and children in Ontario alone do not have access to health coverage in any given year.
These individuals are largely denied coverage directly because of their immigration status, including newly arrived immigrants undergoing a three-month waiting period, temporary foreign workers who find themselves between contracts, or even returning Canadian citizens, among others.
By only affording secure access to health care to those they grant permanent status, Canada is making a clear declaration on who they believe deserves the opportunity to attain health; effectively, they have rejected the universality of this human right.
By NISHA KANSALOpinion