Failed refugee claimant with cancer denied health care

A failed refugee claimant in Red Deer, Alta., with cancer says he is not eligible for health care coverage because of changes to federal immigration laws.

Man living in Alberta remains in Canada legally while awaiting a final appeal

Doctors held a rally on Parliament Hill in June about cuts to the refugee medical program. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A failed refugee claimant in Red Deer, Alta., with cancer says he isn’t eligible for health care coverage because of changes to federal immigration laws.

Gabriel Yanez was diagnosed with testicular cancer in October, but due to recent changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, he has no medical coverage. The program provides temporary health coverage to people not eligible for provincial care. 

"I understand that they don’t want to change the law for me only, but it’s not my fault I’m still working legally. I pay for my tax every cheque. I’m working hard and I can pay for the visit to the doctor, for a small visit, but not for cancer."

Yanez, who says he is fleeing drug and gang violence in Acapulco, Mexico, is working legally while awaiting news about his fate in Canada. His refugee claim was denied and the family of five has re-applied twice on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.

$20M in savings

As of July, the federal government has changed the health coverage available to non-government sponsored refugees.

Health care coverage has been pared back to emergency services only or if care is required to prevent or treat a disease that could be a public health concern.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argued, at the time, that the new federal health changes will save taxpayers $20 million.

"We are talking here mainly about people who are by definition not refugees," he said. "They are illegal immigrants. They have gone through the fair process. Their claims have been assessed and rejected. They should leave Canada and we shouldn’t be attracting them to stay here by giving them extra health benefits."

But Yanez’s file is still open and he is allowed to stay in Canada until a decision is made about his claim.

"A gentleman like this patient, Gabriel, basically has been given a death sentence. To me, that is criminal," said Dr. Morne Odendaal, his family physician.

Odendaal and other medical professions have been donating their time to help Yanez, including performing surgery for free.

The Spanish-speaking community in Red Deer is also raising money to help him. He needs chemotherapy in the new year and will have to pay for the treatments out-of-pocket.