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Up in Arms

Just as the federal sports minister takes the stage at a Pan Am games countdown in Toronto this summer, a handful of doctors move in to upstage the moment.

“What this policy’s done is reversed fifty years of Canada’s historical ethical values, of taking care of people who come from war-torn and violent situations, and provide them minimal coverage equivalent to that of the poorest people in Canada, what they receive.” says Dr. Philip Berger, head of family medicine at St. Mike’s Hospital in Toronto.

Dr. Berger and Dr. Anna Banerji are a part of the “white coat revolt”, a group of Canadian doctors up in arms about the federal government’s decision to cut a long-standing health care program for refugees. Now, unless they’re a public health risk or needing urgent care, thousands of refugees are no longer able to get free medication, prosthetics, eyeglasses, dental care or supplementary treatment.

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“We know the horrible stories – I hear on a daily basis, and so for them to say to these young children and mothers, you’re not entitled to health care, that’s not right,” says Dr. Banerji, who runs a paediatric clinic specifically for refugee and new immigrant children in Toronto, Ontario.

Up until July 1st, Dr. Banerji was able to treat refugees in her clinic without worrying about the bill. But now, because of the cuts, she is taking matters into her own hands.

“I can do blood work and that, on your daughter because your daughter was born in Canada… But I can’t easily do blood work on yourself,” she says to a rape victim who came to Canada from Swaziland to seek refuge from an uncle who sexually abused her. “Come in to see me with your baby. Make sure they don’t register you because you don’t want anyone to register you…otherwise they’re gonna send you a very big bill.”

Dr. Banerji examines the mother the free.

“I’m not going to throw her to the wolves,” she declares. “Is this something I am willing to jail for?” says Dr. Banerji. “Absolutely.”

For the full story watch 16×9 Friday at 8 PM – AT/MT, 9 PM – CT, 10 PM – ET/PT.