Skip to main content

U2 frontman Bono arrives at the National Art Centre in Ottawa on Monday, June 15, 2015. Bono is in Ottawa for a meeting with political leaders and non-profit organizations.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Canadian doctors petitioned Irish rock star Bono to use a meeting with Stephen Harper to speak on behalf of refugees in Canada whose health care has been cut by the Conservative government.

In an open letter to the U2 front man and anti-poverty activist, who met privately on Monday with the Prime Minister and opposition leaders, three co-founders of the group Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care (CDRC) say many refugees are going without necessary care as a result of the government's three-year-old decision to remove their health benefits.

U2 performed in concert in Montreal over the weekend, and Bono took a side trip to Ottawa to talk with Mr. Harper about international aid for maternal and child care – an issue the Prime Minister has said is close to his heart and for which the Canadian government has pledged $3.5-billion over five years.

"At the time of your meeting with Prime Minister Harper to discuss maternal and child health care in developing countries, the CDRC will be holding its fourth national day of action with events in 20 cities calling on the Prime Minister to restore health services to pregnant women and children refugees in this country," the doctors wrote. "We respectfully encourage you to raise these issues in your meeting with Prime Minister Harper."

Bono did not stop to talk with reporters when his closed-door talks with the politicians ended, so it is not known how he responded to the request.

In 2012, the Conservative government eliminated all medical coverage for some asylum seekers and cut the supplemental benefits – including payments for prescription drugs and vision care – of many others. Doctors said at that time the cuts left vulnerable refugees without care.

Last year, a Federal Court judge struck down the Conservative changes to the refugees' health benefits, saying they violated the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that forbid cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. The judge gave the government four months to reinstate the program.

In response, the government reversed the cuts for children under the age of 19 and for pregnant women, but other refugees remain without coverage. The government is also appealing the court decision.

"Now, this government is going back to court using taxpayer dollars – $1.4 million and counting – to take those health benefits away from pregnant women and refugee children once again," Doug Gruner, a physician and one of the co-signers of the letter, told a news conference on Monday.

When asked about the government's decision to appeal the Federal Court ruling, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told the House of Commons that refugees in Canada continue to receive health care from the federal government.

"Yes, we will continue our appeal because we do not think it is fair that those whose asylum claims have failed or those whose asylum claims were fraudulent should be receiving better health care than Canadians themselves," Mr. Alexander said.

But Dr. Gruner said it is "completely untrue" that the only ones who have been denied health care are those whose claims are bogus or have been rejected. He and other doctors told reporters about legitimate refugees who have been denied access to chemotherapy and treatment for other maladies.

"These are the privately sponsored refugees, coming from UN refugee camps where their medications for asthma, diabetes and other conditions are provided for them free of charge," Dr. Gruner said.

"The zeal with which this government is attacking refugees is not only shameful, but it's illogical."

Interact with The Globe