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Federal judge cites several tragic health cases in refugee ruling

OTTAWA - Friday's Federal Court decision on refugee health care came with stories of fear and desperation and "the extreme human cost" of the federal government's crackdown.

Justice Anne Mactavish's decision tells of a diabetic who survives on donated insulin, a man who nearly lost his eyesight because he couldn't afford surgery and a 14-year-old who couldn't join her Sea Cadets group on a camping trip because she didn't have a health card.

The stories were contained in affidavits filed as part of an effort to overturn the federal government's two-year-old decision to severely limit health coverage for failed refugee claimants and people from countries deemed to be safe.

Mactavish referred often to these affidavits in her lengthy ruling.

Hanif Ayubi is a diabetic from Afghanistan. While the government denied him refugee status, it won't send him back to Afghanistan, saying the country is too dangerous.

He ekes out a precarious existence with minimum-wage jobs in restaurants and gas stations.

His doctors say he needs a number of medications to deal with his condition and, until two years ago, they were paid for. Now he relies on a community health centre which helps him get some drugs and provides insulin donated by a drug company.

Then there is Daniel Garcia Rodrigues, a failed refugee claimant from Colombia, who was told in August 2012 that he had a retinal detachment that would need immediate surgery if his vision was to be saved.

But he had no insurance to cover the $10,000 operation. Only a doctor who agreed to operate for a fraction of the normal cost and waived his fees for post-op work, saved the eye.

Rodrigues' wife had been granted refugee status and eventually both qualified as permanent residents.

The judge also wrote of Rosa Maria Aylas Marcos de Arroyo and her teenage daughter, Naomi, both failed refugee claimants from Peru who were seeking to stay in Canada on compassionate grounds.

While they waited for a decision, Naomi joined the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets.

Naomi's involvement in the cadets helped the shy girl gain confidence, her mother said in her affidavit.

But in February of 2013, she had to skip a cadet camping trip and subsequent concerns about her lack of a health card raised questions about whether she could stay in the group.

There were other stories, from a 76-year-old unable to pay for cancer treatments, to expectant mothers being asked to pay thousands of dollars up front before giving birth in a hospital.

The justice took strong issue with the federal government's attitude:

"The respondents' argument takes no account of the extreme human cost incurred as individuals search for sources of potentially life-saving medical care."

She also solved one problem, ordering that starting four months from now the federal government must provide Ayubi with the same health coverage he was entitled to before the 2012 changes.

She dismissed the federal government's contention that refugees can fall back on charitable donations.

Charity is an uncertain haven, she wrote, which affronts human dignity.

"It is simply demeaning to require desperately ill people to go begging for essential medical treatment."

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