Citizen Action Monitor

Harper Minister stunned into silence by doctor’s bold verbal assault over cuts to refugee health care

“I don’t believe this Minister deserves my courtesy, or the courtesy of any doctor in this country.”

No 515 Posted by fw, June 30, 2012

Chris Keefer, a young, bold Canadian doctor showed he could give as good as — and even better than — he got from a hapless Joe Oliver, caught off guard while reading from a prepared text at a press conference. Joe was flummoxed. He went silent, looked down, shuffled his notes and stood stone silent while Dr Keefer captured the attention of the cameras and the audience. Oliver’s feeble attempt to regain his composure and confidence fell flat. Finally, he fled the podium. Then he returned and tried, without much success, to rescue his authority as a government minister. But by then it was too late.

For anti-Harperites, it was beautiful to watch. And it was all captured on the following 5:20-minute video. My transcript follows.

Doctor and medical student interrupt Minister Joe Oliver at press conference, published on Jun 24, 2012 by alroyfonseca. The event took place at Toronto General Hospital, June 22, 2012.


[Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was just beginning his address to a gathering at Toronto General Hospital when he was interrupted].

Dr Chris Keefer — Mr. Oliver, doctors in this country will not remain silent in the face of . . .

Oliver – Well, I’ll answer those questions after my announcement.

Keefer — …cuts to the Refugee Health Program…

Oliver – I will be very happy to answer those questions after.

Keefer — …the most vulnerable members of our society. Refugees who are coming from war-torn countries, fleeing hatred, fleeing crimes against humanity, and your government is about to cut the very essential medicines, the very essential services that these people require in order to continue living. This is not the legacy of Canada, this is not the kind of country that we want to live in. I am not alone. We have medical associations across this country – the CMA, the OMA – all of these organizations are denouncing your government’s cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program. What do you have to say for yourself?

Unidentified hospital administrator – Perhaps we could give the minister the courtesy of finishing his remarks and I’m sure that…

KeeferThe Minister will be disrupted from this point on. Members of the Conservative government will be disrupted from this point on by Canadian doctors across the country…

Oliver – Do you want an answer to your question?

Keefer – Please. Please do.

Oliver – Okay. The answer to the question is that our government believes, as most Canadians believe, that all Canadians should be given the same health care. And we do not believe that people who just arrived, recent refugees should be given superior health care to that of Canadian residents and Canadian citizens. We’re equalizing the health care so that everyone in this country is treated equally.

Keefer – Minister, you well know that (unintelligible) on Ontario workers who receive very similar benefits as refugees coming to this country. Refugees are coming…

Oliver – Well, I uh, I. Okay. I’ve answered the question. (Oliver walks away from the podium).

Keefer – You are cutting off maternal benefits. Pregnant women will not be able to get health care because of you. A pregnant woman, a diabetic will not be able to get insulin, will come into my emergency department with diabetic acidosis. Okay, do you think that’s going to save money for this country?

Hospital administrator – This is an important announcement for Canadian patients. You are interrupting and I’m rather embarrassed on behalf of our hospital that we have a representative of the Canadian people here who’s unable to announce something that’s very important for Canadian patients. I’d ask you, doctor — if you are a doctor?

Keefer – I am a doctor.

Hospital administrator — …please take your seat and show the Minister the courtesy that…

KeeferI don’t believe this Minister deserves my courtesy, or the courtesy of any doctor in this country.

Hospital administrator – Minster, we apologize to you and we’re going to conclude this announcement. [Turning to Dr. Keefer] You’ve destroyed it. For Canadian patients you’ve ruined this announcement. Thank you.

Keefer – For Canadian refugees, this Minister has ruined potentially their lives.

Medical Student: Faria Kamal – As doctors, allied professionals…

Oliver – (Returns to podium) The information that you’re giving Canadian people is false. I don’t mind having a debate…

Kamal — …that we are not alone

Oliver — I don’t mind having a debate but I don’t, I would like to…

Kamal — …thousands of doctors, thousands of nurses have denounced these cuts. Every major health organization in this country has come out against this cut. This is an unprecedented move by the medical community and this government has been hell-bent to ignore the voices of doctors, to ignore the voices of nurses, to shut out the Canadian people for this. And we denounce this cut.

[Meeting breaks up]

Reporter – Do you think you got your point across or just made them more upset?

KeeferIf I made them upset I think this government deserves to feel uncomfortable and should be made to feel upset. I think they’re upsetting a lot of people across this country. They’re upsetting some of the most vulnerable people in this country, people who have just arrived here, fleeing torture, fleeing famine, fleeing all kinds of hardships.

Kamal – I, myself, am a first-generation immigrant and I’m here today to send a really strong message to this government that as health care professionals we’re not going to stand by and let this happen. And let this serve as a notice to the Conservative government that as allied health care professionals we will continue to raise this issue and disrupt their talks. Why didn’t Joe Oliver meet with us when we went to his office and asked for a meeting? Why aren’t these Conservative governments taking into account the various health organizations that have come out against these cuts? These are the only platforms we have left today to have our voices heard by a government that is so hell-bent on not listening to the voices of Canadians, to not listen to allied health care professionals. And we are the ones that will deal with the frontline repercussions of these cuts, not them.


  • Doctors will monitor cuts to refugee health care by Gloria Galloway, The Globe and Mail, June 27, 2012. — Doctors say they will keep records of refugees who suffer serious untreated ailments or die as a result of health-care cuts planned by the federal government – and they will hound Conservative politicians with their findings. Under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) refugees who do not qualify for provincial health insurance will lose all the supplementary benefits, including prescription drug coverage unless the medication is for a disease that poses a “risk to public health.”
  • Slashing health care for refugees puts lives at risk, costs more published by, June 18, 2012. Hundreds of refugees, health care workers and their supporters rallied on Parliament Hill to condemn the Harper government’s drastic cuts to refugee health care, which take effect June 30. The demonstration was one of 13 across the country in a national day of action to protect the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary health insurance for refugees.
  • A pediatrician speaks out: Refugee health cuts put children’s lives at risk by Samir Shaheen-Hussain,, June 27, 2012. What we’ve already learnt about the proposed cuts to the IFHP apply equally to children as they do to adults. So, what does this mean, tangibly, for children and their families? Let me give a few examples [beginning with this one]. If a young child from Haiti is diagnosed with sickle cell disease, she won’t have health care coverage for her medical appointments. Meanwhile, her daily medications – including daily antibiotics that are imperative to prevent severe and life-threatening infections that kids with sickle cell disease are at risk for – will not be covered. Why? Medical appointments won’t be covered because this child is a “failed refugee claimant” who can’t be deported back to Haiti because of a moratorium on deportations to Haiti due to the conditions there. Medications won’t be covered because sickle cell disease is not deemed to be a communicable disease.
  • 90 Canadian Physicians protest dangerous cuts to Refugee Health Care at MP Joe Oliver’s office. <Video> Published on May 12, 2012 by Docs4refugeehc. Over 90 Canadian Physicians protest dangerous cuts to Refugee Health Care at MP Joe Oliver’s office on Friday, May 11, 2012. Joe failed to show up.
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