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Thursday, September 3, 2015

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Bill C-31: I crawled into bed

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When Bill C-31 was passed by the Senate, I fell into a deep sadness. I did because I couldn’t understand how men and women elected to lead our country could unanimously decide to deny a place of refuge, and vital medicine, to men, women and children longing for the safety and security we cherish.

Bill C-31 implicitly determines that if a Jew persecuted in Hungary, as is happening today, or a Roma who has been attacked and is the victim of what Amnesty International calls (regarding Hungary) “violent and hate crimes” (see this report:, it will still be nearly impossible for them to stay in Canada. Furthermore, when they’re denied refugee status, they won’t be able to appeal the verdict and will be sent back to the place they fled within 45 days, a place where right-wing thugs are openly calling them vermin and bugs.

I fell into bed on the night of June 27, the night the Senate passed Bill C-31, struggling with the reality that every single Conservative party member (except a few who didn’t vote) voted “yes.” I’m confused about how our government remained deaf to the pleas and protestations by the Canadian medical community – including the Canadian Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Canadian Pediatric Society – as well as churches, the Toronto Board of Rabbis, refugee lawyers, experts on the refugee issue and Canadian citizens en masse. Our governing bodies heard speeches by respected doctors such as Dr. Philip Berger on the effects that changes to the Interim Federal Health Program will have on children and pregnant women – the risk of severe illness and death.  

Please note that as of July 1, all refugees no longer have access to medication through the Interim Federal Health Program, including lifesaving medications such as insulin. Please be clear that individuals from “designated countries,” including Jews from Hungary, will not have access to emergency care. This includes children, pregnant women and people facing acute crises, such as heart attacks.

Hear the words of Senator Jane Cordy, who stated in her speech prior to the passing of the bill in the Senate: “What is written in law can often be far different than what is happening on the ground in many so-called ‘safe countries.’ Indeed, it is when a country is deemed safe that those facing persecution often face the greatest challenges. Fellow Canadians, there is a rise of antisemitism in Hungary. Please read articles on June 5 in The Canadian Jewish News stating this very clearly… Judaism teaches the concept of tikkun olam, an exhortation to repair the world. If passed, Bill C-31 would be antithetical to these values. Ironically, we also understand that, were our families to arrive today under the federal government’s new rules, they would be denied health care and, ultimately, citizenship. Returning to the retrograde policies that inspired ‘none is too many’ must be rejected.”

We have three years to go before the next federal election. I strongly suggest that we stand very much on guard over what happens to those refugees who are denied medical care. If one should die, we must hold our government accountable. And let’s also begin questioning the logic and morality behind the concept of a majority government, particularly one in which every single member of that government must vote the party line.

We were once refugees. Thank God we made it in.

This column appears in the July 19 print issue of The CJN

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