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59 Cents Campaign grows out of peace building assignment


59 Cent Campaign group, from left: Maureen Gathogo, Rianna Isaak, Cecilly Hildebrand, and Matthew Dueck (missing: Deanna Zantingh)

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July 12, 2012
- CMU release, with files from Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. – On June 22, a small group of students from Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) and CMU’s Menno Simons College launched a campaign to challenge the federal government’s decision to begin denying supplemental healthcare coverage to refugees on June 30, 2012.

The 59 Cents Campaign for Refugee Healthcare is a politically independent, student-led movement that grew out of a small group assignment in a one week course – “Speaking Out... and Being Heard – Citizen Advocacy” – at CMU’s Canadian School of Peacebuilding (CSOP). Group members Matthew Dueck (Ridgewood EMC and Charleswood Mennonite Church), Maureen Gathogo (Springs Church, Winnipeg, Man.), and Deanna Zantingh (Canadian Reform Church, Smithville, Ont.) were later joined by fellow CMU students Cecilly Hildebrand (Ridgewood EMC and Charleswood Mennonite Church) and Rianna Isaak (College Community Church Mennonite Brethren, Clovis, California, and River East Mennonite Bretheren Church Winnipeg, Man.) to help spread the word about the campaign.

“We believe that the recent changes to the Canadian Interim Federal Healthcare Program (IFHP), which supplied refugees with the medical help, are unacceptable,” says project spokesperson Matthew Dueck. “We would like to see this changed, and refugees given the opportunity to receive the healthcare they need.”

“Our assignment was to create an advocacy campaign that could, in theory, be implemented in real life,” says Dueck. “But by the time we were making our class presentation at the end of the week, we realized that there was nothing stopping this from moving beyond the theoretical  – and after everything we’d learned about the situation, we were passionate about helping to create change.” The advocacy campaign is focused in a YouTube video the group developed.

In 2011 alone, Canada opened its doors to 25,000 refugees, offering an opportunity for healing and hope. Many refugees entering the country are leaving traumatic situations, coming to a place where they are operating without support networks or sometimes even a working knowledge of Canada’s official languages.

“Until now, refugees have been entitled to full medical assistance under the Interim Federal Healthcare Program - a $20-million per year program the federal government has cancelled, effective June 30, 2012,” says Dueck.

“$20-million spread across our country’s population works out to only 59 cents per person,” says Dueck. “It makes practical and moral sense to continue this relatively small program that ensures these vulnerable new residents receive help before their treatable illnesses become serious long-term health issues. We recognize that many refugees are unable to speak up on this issue. We’re encouraging all Canadians to lend their voices by sending 59 cents to the Prime Minister, showing our willingness as a country to give our part toward a small but vital program – and hopefully pressure the federal government to reverse this decision.”

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the response so far,” Dueck continues. “People from across the country – including a law professor in Victoria and doctors from all over Canada, as well as regular citizens of all ages – have been encouraging us and getting involved. It really proves the power of a simple idea.”

Over the Canada Day weekend, the federal government quietly reversed some of the cuts, but a Winnipeg Free Press article (July 3) reported that the cuts still apply to refugees sponsored by faith groups. As a result, the group is re-evaluating how to proceed.

“Regardless, we are still encouraging Canadians to send their 59 cents to office of the Prime Minister,” he said. For more information, contact Matthew Dueck at or 204-371-9826.

See complete coverage of Assembly 2012