Our incredible accident of birth

As many of you know, I work with refugees. On a daily basis I come face to face with my incredible privilege of being born in Canada. Every day, I am grateful for the fact that I have always felt relatively safe in Canada. While I have dealt with discrimination being a fat lesbian, I have never known actual fear for my life based on my opinions, political beliefs, or lack of religious belief. I have always felt free to express my views and beliefs and, as my blog will attest, I have been doing this since 2007 with almost 1100 posts.

On Wednesday, The Current on CBC Radio One, broadcasted some interviews from 2 individuals one either side of the Israel/Gaza conflict. I am not going to get into the particulars or my opinions on this conflict as it is a quagmire and not really relevant to this post. What struck me was the absolute terror both people felt at the bombing going on in their countries, places where they should have the right to feel safe.

First up they spoke with a man who lived in the Gaza Strip. He had children and Israeli bombs had fallen within 60 metres of his home. They had been with electricity for days, which was impacting their ability to get fresh water into their homes. Every day he has to go out and try to find food and water for his family; every day he feared he would come home and his house and family would be gone. He just wanted a safe place to raise his family where he could provide food and water for his children.

Next they interviewed a woman who lived in a city close to the border with Gaza. The woman worked at a university in a city about close to the border. She expressed gratitude that she lived 40 km from her work as the missiles were unlikely to hit her home. She then relayed the process everyone goes through when the air raid sirens sound while they are driving. They have to pull over, get out of their cars and seek cover. She said this had happened on her way to work that day. The only thing I could think of was how I would not even consider going to work if this was happening where I live. She also mentioned a co-worker who sent an email saying she couldn’t leave her house until this was over as she was too afraid.

Engaging with people’s stories from war torn regions is worthwhile process. It puts things in perspective for us as we imagine, for just a moment, what that might be like. I wonder quite often how refugees cope with having to uproot and leave everything they have ever known and come to our strange, cold country. Where do they find the strength? The only thing I can think of is that out of great fear and persecution, a strength is born. Sometimes I wonder if I would have that strength; could I endure what other people have to in their lives?

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Published in: on November 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stephen Harper is Killing Canada

Seriously. Seriously who voted for these assholes? They certainly didn’t run on a platform of sticking it to seniors, seasonal workers and refugees. Yet that is what is happening. Every day we seem to hear another cut to some social program somewhere. Harper and his cronies are consistently targeting the poor, the old and the stateless all under the guise of fiscal prudence. However, a little analysis will show that these cuts are just plain cruel and the amount of savings is chump change when compared to the size of the overall Canadian Federal budget.

Small ‘c’ conservatism, at its roots, is steeped in Protestant Christian doctrine. Canada, a country founded mostly on Protestant Christianity[1], has deep roots in Calvinism. John Calvin, a French theologian, believed in predetermination. He believed that a person’s fate in the afterlife was predetermined, meaning there was nothing a person could do in their life that would change this outcome. Out of this grew a belief that successful people, those with wealth and power, would be going to heaven. Clearly this cast the poor and the downtrodden as expendable as they had no hope of going to heaven anyway. We see this principle alive and well in Canada today. Even though our society is multicultural and far more secular today these beliefs still inform political ideology. Income supports to help the poor and disenfranchised are almost always the first thing on the chopping block in times of economic uncertainty even though they are a very small part of the overall budget.

Harper has been quite strategic in his cuts to OAS. He has not targeted current recipients or even people 5 years away from claiming OAS. Instead, he has put the age increase for eligibility a full 10 years down the road. This really does not make sense as it is the glut of baby boomers retiring in the next 10 years that will cost the program the most money. Clearly Harper knows that messing with seniors is never a good idea. Current recipients of OAS don’t really care what is going to happen in 10 years and those of us that it will affect are too busy trying to make a living to protest these changes.

This week’s announcement about changes to EI really reflects conservative ideology. The fact that the EI program is well funded by contributions from individuals and working Canadians seems to have escaped him. Other governments have actually taken money from the EI program to help offset other deficits. In the changes announced, Harper and his merry band of con artists is going after seasonal workers. These changes will not affect Harper’s traditional base of support in the western provinces. Instead it will punish those who did not elect Conservatives. By limiting the amount of EI a seasonal (or heavy user as they are now being called) worker can receive will have a huge impact on the local economies where it can least be afforded. Reducing the amount of money in circulation will have huge ripple effects through already depressed areas of the country. These changes will also put more pressure on provincial welfare systems.

Harper’s reason for this change is completely insulting. The federal government is arguing that Canadians are sitting on EI while Tim Horton’s and McDonalds have to bring in temporary foreign workers to staff their outlets. In the ‘new world’ ‘heavy users’ of EI would have to take a job that pays 70% of their normal wages if it is within an hour of their homes. First of all this is going to be so difficult to enforce, in fact I think it will cost more to enforce this edict than the money they will save. Let’s not forget that the EI program is healthy – there is no fiscal reason for these changes. Instead it is about keeping the poor in their place, under the thumb of the federal government.

I have saved the best for last. While the changes to social programs above are draconian, it is the cuts to the refugee health program that are the cruelest. Canada agrees to take about 3000 refugees per year from war torn areas of the world and refugee camps. We transport them here[2], they receive a monthly stipend and health coverage under the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program. We also accept refugee claimants who are also covered by IFH. Through a quiet order-in-council, the Harper government has made deep cuts to this program to save $80 million over 5 years.[3]

Under these changes, which take affect at the end of June, refugees will only be treated for diseases that are a danger to the Canadian public or diseases that make a person a danger to society. If the refugee has tuberculosis they will be diagnosed and treated. A severe mental health issue like psychosis or schizophrenia may be treated if the government believes the refugee could hurt people. If you have diabetes the government may pay for the diagnosis but not the treatment – so no insulin or medication. They will also not provide medical equipment[4] or pay for emergency dental work or medication for depression. Refugees whose claims have been rejected or who are from a Designated Country of Origin[5] will not have any coverage. So if a rejected refugee presents at a hospital with a heart attack they will receive treatment, as the hospital cannot turn them away. The refugee will then be stuck with a huge bill and no way of paying so ultimately the province will be on the hook for the costs.

IFH will not pay for any medication except under the two exemptions of conditions that pose a risk to the Canadian public. In some cases they will pay for the diagnostics and a surgical procedure if it is warranted. One example that was given is that of a refugee who needs to have a stent put in their heart. This would all be paid for but the medication needed like blood thinners or statins would not be covered. This literally makes no sense and, in fact, is counter-intuitive. If you pay for a surgery but not the medication to maintain its efficacy, the patient will be back in hospital for further procedures. Most refugees live in abject poverty for the first couple of years at least and if the choice is medication or feeding the children you can guess where the money is going to go.

My solution to all of this is for the Harper government to cancel a couple of fighter jets. Why do we need fighter jets? We are not at war with anyone except the poor, the disenfranchised and the vulnerable. Our government’s priorities are extremely screwed up. As an individual I feel powerless to do anything to change what is happening. I am only hoping that we have something that still resembles Canada at the end of this government’s mandate. In the meantime you can all expect some long rants.


[1] Except Quebec and some other French-speaking enclaves which are primarily Catholic.

[2] They have to pay the transportation costs back at the end of the first year. For some large families this amounts to a debt of thousands of dollars. Welcome to Canada and your new indebted life.

[3] 80 million sounds like a lot of money unless you put it in perspective. This amounts to $16 million a year on a $6 billion budget. Basically the government is going to go through the couch and gather some change.

[4] Think canes, walkers, and crutches.

[5] Designated Country of Origin – is a country, determined by the Federal Immigration Minister that has a high refusal rate for claims or a country where refugees abandon their claims. Currently Mexico would be such a country. We don’t yet know which countries will be on the list.

Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 11:54 am  Comments (2)  
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We all need to take a lesson from Quebec Students

Students have been protesting planned increases to tuition for 3 months. It does not seem to matter what the Charest government does the protests come back stronger than before. This is not a surprise to those of us who are familiar with Quebec history. Whether it was the October Crisis, the confrontation at Oka or the power of the sovereignty movement, Quebecers have a long history of effective protest. What makes Quebec stand apart from other provinces is their absolute commitment to social justice and access to education. Quebec has the lowest tuition in the country. If the proposed tuition increases go through, Quebec will still have the lowest tuition in the country. Quebecer students don’t seem to care about the government’s claims – to them, this increase will reduce access to education.

Canada has never been a country to sustain any kind of long-term protests seen in other countries. We seem to just take what the government dishes out and retreat to our indebted homes to lick our wounds. Very rarely is public outrage translated into political action. One recent exception was the HST petition that succeeded in causing a referendum. I doubt it would have been so successful if it were not for the polarizing influence of Bill Vander Zalm.

Our current political climate is cruel and very negative. The Harper Conservatives keep lobbing cut after cut after cut at us and like good little Canadians we take it and hope that someone, somewhere will fix it. It started with extending the age of eligibility of OAS.[1] Since then we have seen medical insurance for refugees being cut[2] and now being told that we have to be prepared to take any job if we happen to need EI. The Conservatives are eroding, even further, what differentiates Canada from other countries.

I am sure that no one who voted for Harper saw all this shit coming. But it is so predictable. He is a social conservative. He believes that everyone just needs to work harder and they will have everything they need. We know this is not true. People do not languish on EI or welfare because they want to. No one wants the state to pay their way if they have an option. I am afraid that the Canada we get back when he is done is going to look nothing like the Canada of today. This makes me very sad and not very hopeful for the future. I only hope that our youth take a page from the Quebec students who will not back down. We need that kind of commitment to save Canada now.


[1] Which will not be felt immediately. Instead, it will hit my generation.

[2] Refugees will only receive treatment for conditions that are a threat to public safety (i.e. TB) or if they are not treated the person may be a danger to the public (i.e. severe mental health issues). Need a cane, forget it! A life-saving medication like insulin – not going to happen in Harper/Kenney’s Canada!