A ray of hope

Last year when the government of Canada announced the overwhelming cuts they would be making to the Interim Federal Health Program, the system in charge of funding refugee health care services, the news was devastating.

As a result of these cuts many refugees are being denied access to health care, with pregnant women becoming particularly vulnerable which can be seen in some of the examples further below. Refugees that have just arrived do not qualify for health care coverage for many weeks after making a claim which not only puts them at risk but the rest of the population as well. For the most part refugees have unique health needs that are different from the Canadian population, and coming from around the world they suffer from medical problems that may not be found in Canada, such as strongyloides and schistosomiasis. They also have higher rates of certain medical issues, like viral illnesses, which due to these health cuts could not be addressed for months while they make their claim and place those around them at risk as well. According to a report made by OCASI, many clinics and hospitals are also refusing to care for refugees because of a lack of clarity around IFH coverage rules and the inability of the government’s private sector insurance company, Blue Cross, to provide definitive information. In the last year provincial governments are being forced to pay more in health services as the hospitals that do accept refugees are being overwhelmed with increasing refugee emergency room visits- a last resort by refugees who are desperate and find themselves cut off from the less expensive primary care and medication that IFH should be providing.

The silver lining to all these cuts is as follows: not only are social and settlements workers protesting these changes but many doctors, nurses, and other health care professions across the country have rallied against the changes made. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care have put together dozens of reports outlining how the IFH cuts would only increase costs in the long-run and individual physicians have also come forth to the media and OCASI with some real-life examples of the impacts of these cuts including:

· A man requiring urgent eye surgery to prevent blindness is refused IFH coverage because he is said to be an “illegal migrant expected to leave the country”. Ten days later he receives notification from Citizen and Immigration Canada that he is eligible for permanent residency status.

· A young female refugee claimant is 18 weeks pregnant as a result of a sexual assault while being used as a sexual slave. She has no IFH coverage to address the pregnancy.

· A refugee claimant, 36 weeks pregnant, is told by her obstetrician that IFH will no longer provide insurance for her pregnancy or delivery and to bring in $3000 for her next appointment. After weeks of anxiety and investigation, the IFH program admits they made a mistake and the woman will be covered.

· A male refugee claimant experiencing chest pain and having characteristics that makes his physician suspicious of tuberculosis is not eligible for a chest x-ray.

· A male refugee applicant will have his IFH coverage expire shortly. He has three children, two requiring immunizations and a third requiring follow-up on an operation on his aorta at birth. They were turned away from two clinics and are unable to see a physician.

· A refugee claimant, 32 weeks pregnant, presents at two emergency rooms suffering from lower abdominal pain. On both occasions she is told that she would have to sign a document stating that she would be responsible for the costs of her visit. She leaves the emergency room on both occasions without being seen.

These examples are only a few in hundreds of cases, some critical ones here in Waterloo Region. The examples of pregnant women being turned down for health care in particular hits home for me, as I think about how my mother was a recently landed refugee when she became pregnant with me.

The issues involved with covering refugee health care are complex ones, especially with the Minster of Immigration, Jason Kenney, stating that Canada should not have to cover so much health care for refugees when some portions of the Canadian population are not covered. In my opinion, it makes more sense to try and find solutions to improve our health care system than to let an already incredibly vulnerable group take the fall. Luckily I’m not alone in my thinking. Dr. Michael Stephenson, 34, has recently opened a health clinic dedicated to the ongoing care of refugees here in the city of Kitchener. He is the director and sole physician of this new clinic called Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre. Though small, the service he is providing and the values behind it are truly inspirational. Check out the clinics website at http://www.sanctuaryrefugee.ca/

For more information on the IFH cuts check out:

http://www.ocasi.org and www.doctorsforrefugeecare.ca.

Categories: Immigration, Opinion | Tags: , | 9 Comments

On Marriage Equality

I’ve been wanting to do a post on gay marriage and the issues surrounding marriage equality for awhile now. I haven’t yet just because everything that I set out to write would turn into one huge long rant- the opposition of gay marriage, LGBTQ rights in general, and the logic behind most of the common arguments for that opposition tend to upset me. I don’t understand the line of thinking or the intolerance that goes along with it. So instead I’ve decided to share some short (around 3 minutes each) videos that I really like and that I think cover a lot of the issues really well, in a shorter time span than I ever would. Just to give you a taste, my favourite section in the first video on Religion and Gay Marriage is as follows:

“Marriages are intensely personal and they are defined not by courts or by voters, but by the people who live inside of them. That’s traditional marriage; people making a private, daily, lifelong commitment…But tragically, in most of the world, we deny gay people the rights and obligations that are associated with their marriages and that is just discrimination”

This video is a response to another awesome video that outlines really quickly the main arguments against gay marriage and why they are in short crazy:

I’ll end with an awesome ad in support of marriage equality, really short and kinda spoils the ending if you know that it’s for marriage equality but still really amazing and one of my favourite ads of all time:

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 3 Comments

Human Trafficking in Waterloo Region

When it comes to Kitchener-Waterloo, or Canada in general, issues like human trafficking and the forced sex trade tend to be talked about or even thought about in the context of other, less developed countries. In development courses we touch on how and why human trafficking is possible in various East Asian countries such as Thailand, Taiwan, or Singapore. What we never seem to talk about or even recognize is the very present issue of human trafficking and forced prostitution in our own neighborhoods.

Last year human trafficking made some headlines here at home as Waterloo Regional Police publicly identified our 401 corridor as a human trafficking hotspot. One article opens with the statement that women, and often children, are being bought, sold and exploited for labour or sex in neighbourhoods in Waterloo Region and throughout the country without gaining much attention from the general public. According to these articles “trafficking happens here because the region has many venues such as bars, illegal massage parlours and adult entertainment clubs and is also close to the GTA” and “there are places in Kitchener, in the K-W area, that are residences for trafficked women” (http://metronews.ca/news/kitchener/381176/human-traffickers-operating-in-waterloo-region-group-warns/). Victims of human trafficking tend to range from ages 12-22.

Human trafficking, forced prostitution, and forced labour are no longer (or I guess ever were) issues that we should solely talk about in the context of a place faraway from here. Awareness is a key preventative strategy yet despite all the statements from police and news articles, human trafficking is still a problem in KW that flies under the radar. When you’re out and about town and see any suspicious activity, don’t brush it off, pay closer attention and decide whether or not to call the police.


Other Article links:


Categories: Waterloo Region | 13 Comments

What’s a visible minority?

I remember once filling out a survey and being stumped on one particular question: Are you a visible minority, check yes or no. I honestly didn’t really know what to fill out: checking yes felt a bit like cheating- I’ve never really felt like a ‘minority’ Canadian, raised in Canada all my life. What does visible minority even mean? Non-white? How exactly am I ‘visibly’ different from the mainstream? But checking no felt like I was conforming, saying I was white (if that was in fact what they were asking) when I’m not exactly. I didn’t really understand the point of the question either.

Something about the question chafed though I didn’t really think about why until I recently read an article on how the term ‘visible minority’ is misleading and unnecessary (Check it out here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/visible-minority-a-misleading-concept-that-ought-to-be-retired/article12445364/?cmpid=rss1). I realized that my problem with the question is one of the points the article makes: “there is something almost racist about the assumption that whites are the standard against which anyone else is noticeably, visibly different”. It felt weird to classify myself as minority when I’ve never felt as such just because I’m not 100% white. The United Nations Council on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has even asked Canada to reflect upon its use of the term visible minority. I personally identify as both Hispanic and Canadian (white? apparently), with a stronger emphasis on the Canadian but I guess there is still enough Hispanic in me to be considered a minority. As a country that promotes itself as multicultural and diverse, we really should be careful in the ways we group people on one side of the fence or the other.

Categories: Opinion | 10 Comments

Where I’m going: CNCR in Dakar

Where I'll be :)

Where I’ll be 🙂

As part of my International Development program I will be going on an 8-month field placement to Dakar, Senegal. I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been placed with “Le Cadre National de Concertation et de coopération de Ruraux (CNCR)” which roughly translates to the National Framework for Discussion and Cooperation of Rural Areas. I’ll be working as an Environmental Advisor and Intern with their Youth and Women’s Colleges in the capital city of Dakar.

I’ve been given an initial job description and list of responsibilities, though these are subject to change once I arrive and find my place within the organization. As a rough outline though for the work I’ll be doing: CNCR is looking for someone to work with the Youth and Women’s Colleges of their cooperation project  to elaborate and contextualize a sustainable resource management strategy, and to contribute to better taking into account environmental factors in their activities in urban and periurban zones in the Dakar region.

The things that I will (hopefully) be working on are:

1) Conduct  a  literature  review  of  environment,  socio-economic,  physical,  biological
organizational and institutional studies and research. The objective of this analysis is to
make an inventory of all that is available in writing on the region in terms of natural and
water  resource management  and to  have  an  idea  of the  socio-economic  and  physical
characteristics of the region.

2) Create an exhaustive inventory of environmental resource management in the region. It
will consist of an inventory of technical, cultural, social, environmental aspects, etc.

3) Propose  an  action  plan  for  the  sustainable  management  of  resources  to  contribute to  environmental  preservation  in  the  region :  the  objective  is  to  prioritize  problems, to  propose  concrete  solutions  and  to  define  the  mechanisms  for  collaborative implementation of the strategy.

I can’t stress enough how excited I am to be going on this amazing field placement and be working in Dakar from September until the end of April. Wish me luck!

If you can speak french (or don’t mind google translate) check out the CNCR website at:


Categories: INDEV placement | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Hands Held High

I’d like to share some lyrics that I really enjoy and think ties in well with some opinions on development issues. I feel that the song encompasses the feelings development agents, or at least that I do, have on fighting for what you believe in and critiquing the media on how they portray political issues. The leader mentioned it the song has been stated by the band to in fact be George Bush. The song is by Linkin Park and titled “Hands Held High”. This is not all of it but my favourite snippit:

“Risk something, take back what’s yours
Say something that you know they might attack you for

Cause I’m sick of being treated like I have before
Like it’s stupid standing for what I’m standing for

Like this war’s really just a different brand of war
Like it doesn’t cater the rich and abandon poor

Like they understand you in the back of the jet
When you can’t put gas in your tank

These f*****s are laughing their way to the bank and cashing the cheque
Asking you to have compassion and have some respect

For a leader so nervous in an obvious way
Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay

And the rest of the world watching at the end of the day
In their living room laughing like “what did he say?”

In my living room watching but I am not laughing
Cause when it gets tense I know what might happen

World is cold the bold men take action
Have to react or get blown into fractions

Ten years old it’s something to see
Another kid my age drugged under a jeep

Taken and bound and found later under a tree
I wonder if he had thought the next one could be me

Do you see the soldiers they’re out today
They brush the dust from bullet proof vests away

It’s ironic at times like this you pray
But a bomb blew the mosque up yesterday

There’s bombs in the buses, bikes, roads
Inside your market, your shops, your clothes

My dad he’s got a lot of fear I know
But enough pride inside not to let that show

My brother had a book he would hold with pride
A little red cover with a broken spine

On the back, he hand-wrote a quote inside
‘When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die’

Meanwhile, the leader just talks away
Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay

And the rest of the world watching at the end of the day
both scared and angry like “what did he say?”

I’d love to hear any opinions on your favourite stanza or rhyme.

Categories: music lyrics, Opinion | Leave a comment

The “F” Word

A really interesting discussion on the connotations of the word feminism. How has ‘feminism’ become such a dirty word?

A Day in the Life

I have many friends, acquaintances and even family members (I’m looking at my brothers) that will say “I believe in equality for men and women… but I’m not a feminist!”

So why has the word feminist become dirty? Why are people scared to call themselves feminists?

The first reason could be that the root of the word applies to females, and so males have trouble identifying with it. When we look back in history, the feminist movement was primarily women – because it had to be. Men weren’t going to just give women equal pay or the vote, so women had to stand up. But now the feminist movement has shifted, and it’s important to have male allies as part of it. Indeed, most feminists I know also realize that gender stereotypes adversely affect boys and men (“Be a man,” “Grow some balls,” “Boys don’t cry,” etc.) – males need feminism…

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Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My very own epiphany

I came across this quote from feminist blogger Jessica Valenti and was blown away at my realization that I too do most of these things unconsciously and never once noticed or thought about how it reflected on how I feel about my own safety in our society.

Trigger Warning this post deals with issues of rape:

“When I was in college, a teacher once said that all women live by a ‘rape schedule.’ I was baffled by the term, but as she went on to explain, I got really freaked out. Because I realized that I knew exactly what she was talking about. And you do too. Because of their constant fear of rape (conscious or not), women do things throughout the day to protect themselves. Whether it’s carrying our keys in our hands as we walk home, locking our car doors as soon as we get in, or not walking down certain streets, we take precautions. While taking precautions is certainly not a bad idea, the fact that certain things women do are so ingrained into our daily routines is truly disturbing. It’s essentially like living in a prison – all the time. We can’t assume that we’re safe anywhere: not on the streets, not in our homes. And we’re so used to feeling unsafe that we don’t even see that there’s something seriously wrong about it.” – Jessica Valenti

I personally almost always lock my car doors as soon as I get into the drivers seat alone, I take my keys out of my purse usually before I hit the driveway, avoid darkly lit streets, and glance around me walking during the night. All without actually thinking “I gotta watch out or I’ll be attacked, raped, mugged, jumped”…I just do it because it’s automatic. When I first read this I thought that it wasn’t necessarily a ‘rape’ schedule, maybe it was an issue of being afraid something would happen to you like being physically attacked or robbed, but then I got to thinking- how many women vs men have these ingrained habits? If men also do these things it would probably be a byproduct of the general fear of being a victim of crime (Men become crime victims more often than women do -http://www.nij.gov/topics/victims-victimization/welcome.htm) however if women (who are more likely to be victims of rape) are more accustomed to these habits then it would be the type of rape schedule Jessica is talking about. Any men out there do these same things? 

Categories: Gender equality | 12 Comments

Looking at things from the outside in

Looking at things from the outside in

Disclaimer: I did not draw this myself, it was shared with me through facebook.

I love this picture for oh so many reasons but mostly because it reminds me of what’s important. If you were an alien what would impress you about Earth the most? Would it be the monetary success of it’s residents or the physical beauty of it’s natural environment. What would you say about Earth if you were looking at things from the outside in.

Categories: Environment | Tags: | 2 Comments

Lost in Translation

When I was born my mother spoke next to no English. When the doctors handed me to her they did what most doctors do and mentioned how her baby was looking healthy and ‘gorgeous’. My mother of course had no idea what they were saying or what the word gorgeous meant and started to panic, thinking that they were trying to tell her that her baby had some sort of disease. Friends at the hospital managed to correct the issue and explain what was happening and the story has since become a cute little anecdote my mother likes to share about her experiences learning a culture and a language not her own.

Fast-forward 21 years later, and with a growing immigrant population in Waterloo Region, the lack of interpretation in the health care system has become a serious issue. One of my projects at the Multicultural Centre has been to research and outline the benefits of having hospitals hire professional interpreters for patients that speak little to no English. Most of them still rely on family members or friends to interpret for their clients which is a huge problem and not just for confidentiality reasons. For example, for those of you who are fluent in another language, are you familiar enough with the medical terms needed to interpret health issues? Are you capable of explaining medical procedures, medicinal properties, doses etc. in another language? Are you comfortable knowing and communicating health concerns between friends or family members to their doctors? For most immigrants, even those with a good grasp of English, the health care field is a daunting place filled with the unfamiliar. The task of interpretation has been proven to be needed and could also lower the long-term costs associated with having clients put off going to the doctor, taking incorrect doses or heading straight to emergency, however hospitals and family doctors especially are unwilling to help cover the costs of bringing in an interpreter. It is either too expensive, the demand is too high so it is pushed off and/or family members and friends are seen as sufficient. This cannot continue.

For some food for thought consider these real-life accounts. A couple months ago a client from China had to go to one of the hospitals in Kitchener. However, she spoke Mandarin and little English and has no family here in Canada. The nurse there got so fed up trying to communicate with the patient and figure out what she needed that he eventually sent the patient to wander the halls and waiting areas to “find someone that speaks your language”. She ended up leaving with no service. In another case, at the end of last year, a women from Somalia who doesn’t speak English was going into labour and needed a Cesarean section. Due to lack of alternatives her 9 year old son was recruited by the doctors to interpret for his mother before, during, and after the procedure. He ended up fainting in the middle due to the trauma of seeing his mother cut open on the operating table. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. 21 years ago no hospital staff could explain to my mother that ‘gorgeous’ wasn’t some horrible disease and things have seemed to have only gotten worse. 

Categories: Immigration | 4 Comments

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