Disability Support in Canadian Sanctuary Cities  

by Emily Matesic

30% of Canadian immigrants report that they are not receiving the help they need to manage their disabilities, a concerningly high number. When evaluating the level of accessibility in Sanctuary Cities such as Toronto and Montreal, we can compare the levels of support for Canadian citizens or permanent residents with disabilities and the level of support afforded to migrants with precarious status. This post will shed light on how newcomers with disabilities access resources and on the improvements that are still necessary.

Two people walking on a trail. One is walking with a crane and one is with a wheelchair. View from the back.

Spratt. 2021. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/photos/A2bvXVD5qgo

Research conducted at the University of Waterloo reveals that usage and accessibility for newcomers with disabilities differ from those who are born in Canada. Newcomers tend to report better health than Canadian-born citizens, while disabilities tend to go unreported. This lack of reporting is attributed to the Canadian screening process which eliminates those with severe disabilities, known as the healthy immigrant effect. It is also observed that immigrants’ health deteriorates the longer they live in Canada. Immigrants with severe disabilities are less likely to use support than Canadian-born citizens, at 77.2% compared to 80.2%. Female immigrants also tend to report disabilities more often than male immigrants do.

Hashi, an immigrant from Pakistan, speaking about raising her siblings with delayed development explains that “[they] tend to forget things easily and [have an] inability to do things on a daily basis like managing money, packing a [backpack], remembering directions, etc. and the challenge is to keep them in conversation”. In Toronto, undocumented residents are often discriminated against and are unable to access important services and support due to stereotypes and misinformation. The City is spreading awareness of the inequitable access to physical and mental healthcare, as well as promoting services provided by organizations such as the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), which actively fights healthcare discrimination and other forms of exclusion affecting migrants. Research conducted in Toronto by the University of British Columbia shows that undocumented immigrants have far more trouble accessing healthcare, largely due to the fear of being reported to authorities. In turn, permanent residents and refugees can access healthcare far more easily, with relatively positive experiences. The same patterns occurred for emergency room visits as well as access to prescriptions.

In Montreal, research from McGill University shows that migrants with precarious status are often discouraged from seeking medical care, resulting in the shortcomings of health care for migrants with precarious status going unnoticed. “Other barriers are systemic, and include regulations, administrative complications, and outright racism from care providers,” says researcher Ter Kuile. Undocumented migrants, especially those uninsured, must cover the costs of medical services, and for those who need frequent healthcare, it quickly becomes unaffordable. These issues, on top of the expenses for prescriptions and other necessary care, quickly add up creating a financial burden. Seniors often go without the care that is required for health issues and disabilities they may face in old age. To combat this issue, the Province of Quebec has clinics intended for those without insurance and with precarious status. While this is an important step in the right direction, often those with precarious status are still overlooked in many healthcare settings.

When looking at access to health care services for people with disabilities in Canada, there continues to be an apparent discrepancy between citizens and permanent residents of Canada and migrants with precarious status. Sanctuary cities need to improve support systems for migrants with precarious status and prevent disparity. Cities such as Toronto and Montreal provide access to some medical services to undocumented migrants, but there are still many areas in health care where they come up short.

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