Guest Editorial: Unwelcome guests in Canada’s health care system

It all begins with the language. The official language in Canada is English and French and the plethora of small English-speaking towns dotted across this country makes the notion of multiculturalism come easily for Canadians, many of whom prefer to regard themselves as “multi-cultural.”

But when there is something that makes you want to flee, such as a language, you have no control over it, and the Canadian Health Act empowers federal and provincial governments to decide how to carry out integration planning.

While the Canadian economy does well, local industries simply are not keeping up with the demands of immigrants with different backgrounds and needs. Even the Canadian government took note, and this week launched a new system for dealing with the increasing number of people who have no social safety net and who no longer need hospital care.

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At the moment, there are up to 300,000 newcomers a year in Canada, or two-thirds of the country’s recent immigrants. That is down from 600,000 in the year 2000. Immigration is a source of some real frustration for Canadians, who increasingly see Canada’s expiring welfare programs as unsustainable and wonder what will happen to newcomers with no system in place to help pay for them.

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The new online system will replace Canada’s current system. Immigration applications will not be handled by professional staff but by a computer system that can work through the federal bureaucracy to issue permits, or work permits and other papers. The software is designed for immigrants who do not have the experience to navigate the visa system.

But beyond this is the $2.3-billion settlement over 21 years for the forced sterilization of mental patients. Ironically, the settlement is for people who were not victims of forced sterilization but they want the system to be truly accessible to immigrants like themselves. The settlements come from federal government coffers and are paid through provincial coffers and health care systems. Thus, under the new system, provinces will have to pass on the costs to individuals as they would the costs of any other care.

The inter-governmental deal came after a four-year court case involving two individuals who were sterilized without their consent when they were minors.

The aim of Canada’s health care system is to provide care for everyone who needs it. For newcomers, who no longer have health care systems in place, some care will need to be paid for out of pocket, and some care will be paid for through health care dollars.

While this raises some troubling questions about why some immigrants are not being helped, Canada is not out of the woods yet.

A few years ago, the Ontario government settled for $1.2-billion in two cases of public school kids forced to be sterilized. The claims were brought by Muslims and Sikhs, who were simply not given a choice. But that still doesn’t have to happen here.

The best way to ensure that immigrants are treated well when they come here is to get our health care system in order so that it can function properly for all citizens. We have such a system, and it works well.

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Forcing some people to become sterilized when they are not victims of this kind of trauma is simply unfair.

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