An announcement by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was interrupted Friday by a doctor and a med student protesting the government's cuts to a refugee health program.
Oliver was at the Toronto General Hospital Friday morning to announce federal funding for medical isotopes research.
As he started his remarks, Dr. Chris Keefer, a family medicine doctor who works at the Brampton Civic Hospital, interrupted him to take issue with the Harper government's cuts to the interim federal health program, which pays for supplementary health benefits when refugees first arrive in Canada.
The program covers medical expenses such as dental care and prescriptions most Canadians must pay for themselves or get covered by supplementary insurance coverage. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (as well as Oliver today, when challenged by Dr. Keefer) has defended the cuts as a way to level the playing field with the health care Canadians receive from their provinces and territories.
The government also believes cutting access to supplementary health care removes an incentive for failed refugee claimants to remain in Canada. It expects the cuts to save about $100 million over the next five years.
Keefer and Oliver exchanged strong words, and then when Keefer would not stop talking or back down, Oliver sat down.
The host of the event ended the announcement prematurely, but not before Faria Kamal, a first-year medical student from the University of Toronto, also stood to loudly denounce the cuts.
Eventually, Oliver and other officials left the room and started over again at another location with the isotopes announcement.
As he left, Oliver told the audience and reporters that the views Keefer and Kamal were expressing were false.
Keefer told reporters afterward that he believes inadequate health care for refugees will result in more of them turning up in hospital emergency rooms in more advanced states of medical distress, at potentially higher cost to the health care system.
Kamal, whose parents came from Bangladesh, said that she was there on behalf of the group Health for All, which includes medical professionals, students and activists from the immigrant community. The group organized Monday's national day of action to raise awareness of the cuts, and promises to disrupt more public events with Conservative cabinet ministers in the days to come.
The cuts to the interim federal health program are included in the omnibus budget legislation which is currently prioritized for passage in the Senate before the summer recess.