Photo exhibition highlights Hamilton doctors' response to refugee healthcare changes

A group of healthcare professionals, medical students and community advocates depict protests through photography against recent changes to a federal program, which provides medical coverage for refugees and refugee claimants.
McMaster medical student Erica Roebellen is a member of Hamiltonians for Migrant and Refugee Health, which opposes the recent changes to the Federal Interim Health Program. On the monitor is a photo from Storytelling through Photographs, an exhibition that depicts healthcare professionals' response to the legislation. The series will show at Christ Church Cathedral during the James St. North Art Crawl on Friday. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Health, art and activism will all intersect in a new photo exhibition going on display at Christ Church Cathedral on Friday.

Put on by Hamiltonians for Migrant and Refugee Health, a group of healthcare professionals, medical students and community advocates, Storytelling Through Photographs depicts protests against recent changes to the Interim Federal Healthcare Program, which provides medical coverage for refugees and refugee claimants.

Consisting of about 30 selections, the exhibit will provide a chronology of the legislation and the ensuing responses from the medical community.

"The event will be a document of the advocacy work that has gone around this," said Erica Roebellen, a McMaster medical student and a member of the group.

"We want to put forth the message that we believe that health should be accessible for all people," she said. "There should be no barrier to access to healthcare, particularly for some of the most vulnerable people in Canada."

In the spring, the federal government announced cuts to the IFHP. Some physicians said the changes would leave some government-assisted refugees vulnerable — and that failed claimants, as well those who come from countries Canada has deemed "safe," would be left without adequate healthcare coverage.

Related: Interactive: Refugee health care

Remi Lariviere, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada told CBC Hamilton the "changes will ensure that bona fide refugees continue to receive comprehensive healthcare coverage, while illegal immigrants and asylum seekers coming from safe, democratic countries no longer receive health benefits that are superior to what is generally available to Canadians."

Dr. Tim O'Shea, a Hamilton physician who spends part of his practice working at Refuge, a clinic that focuses on migrant health, says the legislation, which came into effect in the summer, has had devastating effects on the ground.

"There's been an increase in the number of uninsured individuals, people with seizures, diabetes heart disease that we have to turn away or find creative ways to treat," he said.

Confusion about the cuts has "led to people who have coverage to be denied care," he added.

Lariviere asserted Citizenship and Immigration Canada has "taken many steps to ensure that the changes have been communicated to health-care providers."

Admission to the event, running between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. as part of the monthly James St. North Art Crawl, is pay-what-you-can. Proceeds will go to support Refuge, a free-to-access clinic that serves migrants living in Hamilton.