Health Minister Jane Philpott says Syrian refugees with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis will not be denied entry to Canada.
Philpott told CTV’s Question Period that Syrian refugees bound for Canada who are found to have infectious diseases may face delayed entry until they are healthy enough to enter the country, but won’t be turned away.
“We would make sure they get appropriate treatment. It would not lead to a denial as a cause in itself of being able to be accepted as a refugee to Canada, but it may delay somebody’s travel,” said Philpott.
“And, of course, as people arrive in Canada, there will be further screening and we’ll make sure that everyone is healthy.”
Philpott, who worked as a medical doctor before entering politics, emphasized that most of the infectious diseases that Syrian refugees could have are “quite treatable.”
The minister said all Syrian refugees will undergo an “international medical examination” before travelling to Canada so that the government is fully aware of their health condition before entering the country. Officials will be looking for physical as well as mental health problems, according to Philpott. She said the government will make sure that the healthcare system is prepared to offer counselling services to Syrian refugees who need it.
“These people have experienced the very difficult circumstances of conflict in Syria,” said Philpott. “Having said that, my suspicion is that these people are incredibly resilient and courageous folk who have managed to endure these circumstances and we will be impressed by their resilience.”
As the government prepares to welcome tens of thousands Syrian refugees, Canada is facing a major family doctor shortage. According to Statistics Canada, 14.9 per cent of Canadians 12 or older — about 4.5 million people — did not have a regular doctor in 2014.
While Philpott admitted that the Canadian healthcare system is already stretched, she said believes it can handle the arrival of Syrian refugees. She said she has been “overwhelmed” by expressions of interest from healthcare providers and other Canadians to help refugees.
Speaking to Question Period, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage also acknowledged that municipal social systems are under pressure, but said that the resettlement of 25,000 refugees spread across the country is “manageable.” He emphasized the fact that no community will ever be 100 per cent ready for the arrival of hundreds or thousands of refugees, and that now is the time to act.
“I think this is something that is going to pay off, not only from a humanitarian and compassionate point of view but from a growth point of view within our communities, and I think most people understand that,” said Savage.
Despite the community will, Savage admits there are still questions about how the municipalities are going to pay for the influx of Syrian refugees.
“I think we need to know certainly where the money is going to come from, what money is available. I fully expect that provinces and also municipalities will have to look at their own budgets,” he said.
Both Savage and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said their communities are developing plans to address any areas of concern as the refugees begin to arrive. According to Vrbanovic, that could be as early as next month for Kitchener.
“My understanding is, at least in the December numbers, we’re likely to see more of the privately sponsored ones (refugees) coming forward.”
Vrbonovic will head to Ottawa this week for a forum at Rideau Hall on welcoming Syrian refugees. Gov. Gen. David Johnston will host the meeting on Tuesday with more than 100 leaders from the public and private sectors, as well as representatives from civil society, to “strengthen our national response to the Syrian crisis.”
Vrbanoic hopes the meeting will allow leaders to share ideas on how they can support Syrian refugees arriving in their communities.
“I think what we want to do is hear what are some of the best practice ideas from some of the other municipalities and community organizations from across the country, so we can adopt those and not reinvent the wheel.”