Canadians take pride in this country’s system of universal health care. But is it really as universal as we assume? If you’re a new immigrant or a refugee, the answer is no.
That’s the troubling message of Your Money Or Your Life, a new ichannel documentary that investigates the suffering newcomers to Canada face when they try to access the country’s health system.
Until now, new immigrants and refugees have typically been fearful to speak out publicly on this issue. But their voices will be heard clearly with the ichannel documentary Your Money Or Your Life.
Duncan McCorkell came to Ontario from Jamaica in 2008 with his wife Mavis. As a non-status immigrant, he didn’t qualify for health insurance. So when he fell ill a year later and was diagnosed with colon cancer, McCorkell faced a life-and-death dilemma. His hospital bills quickly spiralled to dizzying heights, and the cost of the much-needed post-op chemotherapy was beyond his ability to pay. The consequences would prove catastrophic.
Your Money Or Your Life also features interviews with some of the small handful of health professionals dedicated to providing care for the uninsured – notably, Dr. Paul Caulford, founder of a volunteer-run clinic for uninsured immigrants and refugees in Scarborough, Ontario.
Dr. Caulford recalls the case of Byron Alvarez, a refugee claimant from Guatemala who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, only to be denied hospital treatment. He died on the kitchen floor of his apartment, for want of care – a memory that Dr. Caulford says fills him with shame. “It wasn’t something that I thought I would ever, ever see in this country,” he says.
As ichannel producer Kevin O’Keefe (Milk War, Bad Habits) discovered when he began his investigation, there are – according to federal government estimates – as many as half a million people in Canada without public health insurance. Nearly all are new arrivals. Why?
Among the reasons: mandatory waiting periods for new immigrants in several provinces, and cutbacks to the Interim Federal Health Program for refugees and refugee claimants.
Most troubling, however, is the dilemma of those who, for one reason or another, choose to live in Canada without status while their immigration applications are backlogged in the system. If illness strikes, they may have little access to care – especially if they lack the money to pay.
In an interview with the filmmakers, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argues that it’s “irresponsible” for people to come to Canada without making provisions for health care, and insists that taxpayers don’t have the responsibility to provide medical insurance for illegal immigrants.
But Your Money Or Your Life also encourages viewers to weigh the suffering of those like Duncan McCorkell and Byron Alvarez, and to ask whether this position is consistent with the Canadian values of compassion and fairness.
Don Gaudet, Vice President of Programming for Toronto-based Stornoway Communications, which owns and operates ichannel, says the network is committed to producing unique, original Canadian content that tackles compelling social, cultural and political issues. “Your Money Or Your Life” speaks to one of the defining public concerns of our time: access to health care. ichannel will continue, in the season ahead, to deliver thought-provoking programming like this – programming that goes beyond the headlines and gives Canadians a fresh perspective on their world.”
Kevin O’Keefe is the Producer, Writer and Director of Your Money Or Your Life. He is also the Senior Producer at the Canadian digital television network ichannel. At ichannel O’Keefe is the Senior Producer of No Kidding, a standup comedy show about political and social issues in Canada, and has produced and hosted several network shows including: #FAQMP – an interactive show about politics, @issue – a daily one hour current affairs magazine, Celebrity Soapbox – profiles of celebrities talking about their charity work, and Teenzilla – a call in show for parents of teenagers. Previous to ichannel O’Keefe was a producer at Vision TV
O’Keefe’s work has been recognized nationally and internationally. He is part of the #FAQMP team that has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. He wrote and directed a documentary that received a prestigious James Beard Award in the best Television Special/Documentary category. Another hour long documentary he produced was awarded Best Documentary at the Religion Communicators Council. It was also nominated for a Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) award and received an honourable mention at the Columbus International Film and Video Festival. Two of O’Keefe’s stories were nominated for CAJ Investigative Journalism Awards and one of his stories was a Gold Ribbon Nominee at the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). O’Keefe is also the recipient of a B’nai Brith Media Human Rights Award and a Planet Out Short Film Movie Award.
Born and raised on Cape Breton Island, he earned a degree in psychology from the University of Kings College and a degree in Radio and Television Arts from RyersonUniversity.
John Scully is script editor for Your Money Or Your Life. He is a freelance television news, current affairs and executive producer, documentary producer consultant, writer and reporter who has worked at the highest international levels.
Scully has supervised the production of both weekly and nightly news and current affairs programmes for the BBC, CBC, and TVNZ and has produced news, current affairs and documentaries in more than 80 countries and 36 war zones.
He has won numerous awards for his news and documentary work
Scully has taught approximately 300 TV news, current affairs and video workshops to an estimated 600 participants over the past six years for the CBC, Global TV News, Montreal Gazette and New Delhi Television News. The participants have included senior foreign television correspondents, producers, junior reporters and producers, camera operators and video editors
He is a pop culture junkie with an academic flair. With well developed skills in research, writing, and reporting, he currently works as the Associate Producer on #FAQMP, an interactive show about politics and was instrumental in producing the special ichannel youth series @issue 4 teens.
Hickey is part of the #FAQMP team that has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award and was the Associate Producer on the award winning ichannel documentary Milk War. He earned a Degree in History from Queen’s University before studying Broadcast Journalism at Seneca College School of Communication Arts.