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Saskatoon MP’s refugee mailout angers constituents

Posted on October 18, 2012

Leader-Post / Jason Warick / October 15, 2012 —
A mailout from a Saskatoon MP condemning “unfair” health benefits for Canadian refugee claimants has angered many of her constituents, who call the mailout misleading and “racist.”

Saskatoon Rosetown Big-gar MP Kelly Block said in an interview Saturday that the mailout “wasn’t meant to be divisive,” but others disagree.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Dr. Mahli Brindamour, who received the mailout late last week at her Riversdale-area home.

“It’s biased and misleading. It’s trying to pit Canadians against this vulnerable group.”

Another constituent, Peter Garden, said he was “quite shocked at how mean-spirited it was. It speaks to the intolerance out there for refugees.”

The mailout’s headline reads “Ending Unfair Benefits for Refugee Claimants.” It then states “new arrivals” to Canada have received free dental and vision care and prescriptions.

“Not anymore,” it states in bold, underlined block letters.

Block then invites recipients to mail in a response to her survey, which has two options. The first reads, “I agree with Kelly Block. Newcomers don’t deserve more benefits than Canadians.”

The other option reads, “I disagree. Refugee claimants should get dental, vision and pharmacare even if I don’t.”

Brindamour, a pediatric resident and co-chair of the University of Saskatchewan college of medicine’s immigrant and refugee health committee, said the Conservative Party tried to end all health benefits for refugees earlier this year.

Protests across the country, including one she co-organized in downtown Saskatoon, were followed by a partial reversal. Certain categories of refugees would keep their benefits, but those awaiting a ruling on their claims were excluded from all but urgent care and issues affecting public health.

She has seen or heard from other doctors about Saskatoon refugee claimants who are being denied coverage for prenatal care, insulin for their diabetes and even chemotherapy.

Brindamour’s husband and provincial NDP leadership candidate, Dr. Ryan Meili, called the mailout “openly racist, seeking to pit Canadians against some of the most vulnerable people in our society.” Provincial NDP health critic and fellow leadership candidate Cam Broten also received the mailout and said he was “absolutely disgusted.”

“This is not humane treatment and this is not the Canadian way,” Broten posted on his Facebook page.

A Facebook group Tell MP Kelly Block I Disagree with Racism had more than 750 members as of late Sunday afternoon. For her part, Block said she looks forward to the responses to her survey. Block said she’s seen the Facebook posts, but it’s difficult to address concerns in this manner. Block said she’s always eager to receive feedback, and will consider wording future mailouts on the issue differently.

“I really do appreciate hearing from constituents,” she said. She said the subject matter was her own initiative rather than the Conservative Party’s. She said it was an attempt to educate her constituents.

“It is never my intention to offend … It wasn’t meant to be divisive,” Block said.

Block said the amount of tax dollars spent on refugee claimants’ health care needs was only two per cent of the total for all refugees, such as those sponsored by churches. She said she opposed granting services to refugee claimants, many of whom were eventually rejected.

Block said she was simply stating the facts of the new government policy rather than giving her opinion.