In the News
Status for All Migrant Workers!
Battle of Migrant Workers for Health Care in Quebec
Migrant workers and their children in Quebec are forced to endure untold crimes committed against them. One of them is failure to recognize their right to health care coverage and protections. They work here, go to school here, they are our neighbours and friends and they contribute immensely to our culture, our economy and to life in general. They often work in essential services and we could not get along without them. But their rights are violated at every turn. Only thanks to our collective struggle does the matter come to light. In this regard, we made some headway in 2021.
Throughout 2021, determined battles have been fought in Quebec in defence of the most basic human rights of migrant workers, which include our temporary foreign workers, refugees, refugee claimants, international students and those who have been deprived of their status by the federal government, the undocumented, as if human beings could be made illegal.
On September 22, 2021, following a decades-long battle for health care coverage for children of parents without legal status, the Act respecting mainly the health insurance plan and prescription drug insurance plan eligibility of certain children whose parents’ migratory status is precarious and amending the Act respecting end-of-life care (modified title) was passed by the National Assembly. This, despite the fact that the bill had received assent on June 11, 2021. On that date, only the portion amending the Act respecting end-of-life care (modified title), which the government changed prior to the bill receiving consent, went into effect.
The bill was originally introduced by Health and Social Services Minister Christian Dubé on December 10, 2020, on International Human Rights Day. Prior to that, on November 19, 2020, on the eve of World Children’s Day, an open letter signed by various organizations, health care professionals, human rights advocates, academics and others implored the government to provide public health insurance to all Quebec-born children, regardless of their parent’s immigration status. “The urgency of our request is underscored by the context of the current pandemic so as to address immediately the situation facing thousands of children and their families, already vulnerable, who have no public health insurance because of their immigration status,” they stated.
Prior to that, on July 9, 2020, a class action lawsuit on behalf of Canadian children excluded by Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ)’s discriminatory practice had been filed. It alleged that “the government’s practice of excluding these children is contrary to the Health Insurance Act” and in violation of the fundamental rights of certain children, including their rights to life, security and integrity as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Before the lawsuit was filed, on April 26, 2020, the Campaign for Dignified Access to Health Care for the Medically Uninsured called upon Quebeckers to go far and wide in circulating an open letter written by the Caring for Social Justice Collective, signed by some 223 organizations across Quebec, demanding that the government ensure RAMQ coverage of all health care for everyone residing in Quebec, regardless of their immigration status, immediately and definitively.
Successive governments had not only been violating the intent of Quebec’s Health Insurance Act, and the Canada Health Act, they were also violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, to which Canada is a signatory and which Quebec has endorsed through an order in council. It provides, in particular, that State Parties “shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation” […] while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
What was also brought out during the public hearings on the bill was that ever since 1992, the parents of these children were being billed a 200 per cent surcharge on medical fees provided by the RAMQ, with Ottawa turning a blind eye.
What has emerged during the decades-long struggle is the humanity and concern of all those who testified at the public hearings and all those involved in the struggle before, including organizations working in defence of children, health care professionals, lawyers, researchers, political personalities, workers’ and student unions, human rights defenders, and the list goes on.
If there has been a partial victory on this front, it has been because of the implication and involvement of many Quebeckers from all walks of life as well as their organizations who are aware and concerned about the abuse and treatment being suffered by the most vulnerable.
We have a big role to play by popularizing their demands amongst our peers, different collectives and friends. Providing concrete information humanizes the people concerned. It cuts through the stereotypes of immigrants which the media and cartel parties spread which contributes to not only the isolation of the most vulnerable and defenceless amongst us, but also opens all our collectives to the attacks launched under the anti-social offensive.
It is our responsibility as a society to ensure that they are protected and that their rights, just like ours, are provided with a guarantee. They work here and we say, if they are good enough to work, they are certainly good enough to stay. Their status should be recognized as permanent residents. They are essential workers and they have a right to stay and live a dignified life. We will continue to fight until all human beings, society’s most precious asset, take centre-stage. End of story!
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 18, 2022)