Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Protecting refugee health

Protecting refugee health

Nurses believe health is a human right, and RNAO has consistently fought to ensure that all residents of Canada are protected by universally accessible health care.

So in 2012, when the federal government announced it was making cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), RNAO sprung into action. IFHP is a national health insurance program covering refugees and refugee claimants until they are eligible for provincial and territorial health plans. The cuts, introduced by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would reduce the quality of coverage for some refugees, and make others ineligible for coverage.

Nurses had a clear message: cuts to IFHP had to be reversed. Through letters, meetings with politicians, and grassroots protests, they took that message onto the street and into the halls of parliament. In 2014, the Federal Court of Canada agreed, ruling the cuts "cruel and unusual" and ordering the government to restore full IFHP coverage. But the Harper government immediately appealed.

Seeking to restore refugee health care once and for all, RNAO applied for and was granted intervener status in the appeal. The stage was set for nurses to tell the court about the harm caused by this misguided policy. But the court date never came. In fall 2015, the Liberal party was elected with a majority government. The government listened to the outcry from health-care providers and dropped the appeal. They also vowed to make IFHP more comprehensive than it was before the cuts.

Canadians are proud of their health-care system, and proud of their reputation as a refugee-friendly country. Nurses will continue to work to ensure they both remain strong.