John Rafferty – Harper Government Won’t Help

Canadian Senate
John Rafferty MP
John Rafferty MP

THUNDER BAY – POLITICS – If you were driving or walking down the street and saw a stranger in medical distress would you stop and help? I would and I’m guessing most of you would too. Unfortunately, the Harper Conservative government has said they would not, and they’re even fighting a protracted legal battle to establish that they have the legal right to withhold medical assistance for those most in need.

When I see someone in distress I stop and I ask if there is anything I can do to help. I’ve seen others do the same on numerous occasions. We see people all the time on the street, at the sports fields, traveling our highways and just about everywhere else who are lost, injured, ill, or otherwise in distress. We don’t even think twice usually and it’s safe to say that most of us share that most basic human instinct to help those in need whether they are family, friends, or complete strangers.

However, the strangers in question here are not people down the street or on a sport field, but those who have come to Canada from elsewhere in the world in the hope of finding a better life. They are not people with the knowledge or means to medically treat themselves or others when they fall ill or have complications from a long journey across oceans in unsafe and often unsanitary vessels. They are refugees and the most vulnerable people in the world and the Conservative government doesn’t believe that we should help them with their medical needs while they are in Canada and awaiting citizenship hearings.

It was a shame and a national embarrassment when this policy was first announced by then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in 2012. When making the announcement the Minister sounded angry and offended that people would even consider traveling on an overcrowded and unsafe vessel to come to this country seeking a better life like his own family once did. ‘Heartless’ is a word that comes to mind when I think of this government’s position, ‘cruel’ is another, and I am not alone in thinking so.

This past week the Federal Court issued a decision on this shameful government policy. In a sharply worded verdict, the Federal Court has ruled that Harper’s cutbacks to health-care coverage for refugee claimants constitute “cruel and unusual” treatment (particularly to children) and should be struck down. The court went further; “The 2012 modifications to the Interim Federal Health Program potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency. They violate Section 12 of the Charter.” You can read the entire Federal Court decision here:

Now it’s true that money is tight and that we all want our tax dollars spent wisely, but when did we decide that we’d rather save a few bucks than save someone’s life? When did we forget that most of our citizens are here because they’re families made a similar journey in the past – often to escape famine, religious persecution, or find work when there was none to be found in their home country? When did we lose our basic human decency?

Well, the answer I think is that we as a society have not lost our decency, but our elected federal government – clearly – has. I think we are to the point where our shared social values and compassion have been marginalized, even attacked, by an angry government that has never shared them and never really felt a need to help the vulnerable. After winning their majority the Conservatives decided that the only people that they need to care about are themselves and their supporters, and that is unfortunately a very selfish and un-Canadian way of looking at the world.I think our collective social, ethical, and moral conscience is still intact but is simply not reflected by the government of this day. Only a new federal government can undo the damage wrought upon our collective conscience by the Harper Conservatives, and in 2015 you can be sure that Canada’s New Democrats will offer you a clear, ethical, and moral alternative that clearly and consistently reflects our shared values and displays a common decency to others that all Canadians will be able to take pride in.

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.