Despite once being celebrated for our humanitarian actions, Canada’s international reputation continues to regress, as recently affirmed by numerous former government officials including former PM Jean Chrétien. Our international reputation as a humanitarian leader has been continually eroded by a government that has abandoned the compassionate ideals for which we were once renowned.

Nowhere is this attitude more evident than in the Harper government’s ongoing attack on the health care of vulnerable refugees. In April 2012, the federal government made sweeping cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which was established by a 50-year-old policy to provide healthcare to refugees in Canada while they navigate the refugee approval process.

We will soon be responsible for the well-being of all patients who present to us, regardless of their refugee status and the harsh policies of the present government.

Doctors and medical organizations across Canada have strongly criticized this decision for its potential, and now known, health consequences for numerous vulnerable refugees, including pregnant mothers and sick children. Instead of engaging in dialogue with doctors, nurses and other health experts, the government refused to participate in any meeting to discuss the impact of their actions on the health of refugees.

It was not until a ruling from the Federal Court of Canada declared the cuts as unconstitutional that the true extent of these actions was articulated, when Judge Anne Mactavish described them as “cruel and unusual.”

These changes in policy have resulted in dramatic reductions to health insurance for refugees and refugee claimants. Some were denied coverage for issues such as heart attacks, pregnancy, and even for their acutely ill children.

We write this article as medical students who will soon be practicing physicians. We will soon be responsible for the well-being of all patients who present to us, regardless of their refugee status and the harsh policies of the present government. We will refuse to deny medical attention to those who need it most. This is why we have continued to demonstrate our unwillingness to comply with cuts that needlessly threaten the health and safety of newly arrived and vulnerable refugees.

On June 17, 2013, the Canadian Federation of Medical Students and the Fédération médicale étudiante du Québec, together representing all future physicians in Canada, stated their unequivocal opposition to the IFHP changes. Every year since 2012, we have joined our colleagues, health care workers, social workers, and community members across the country on the National Day of Action to protest against the cruelty and injustice perpetrated against refugees by the health care cuts. This year, 20 cities across Canada participated in the largest day of action yet, to ensure the current government knows that its policies towards refugees are unacceptable.

Rather discouragingly, there have been no signs that the government is open to considering stopping this harsh treatment of refugees, in spite of vast public and professional opposition.

Nothing separates us from our peers across the globe except for the luck of our circumstances.

This year on Oct. 19, we have a critical opportunity to challenge the government’s decision. We ask that Canadians vote for political parties whose leaders have committed to fully reinstating health care coverage for refugees. The NDP, Liberal Party, and Green Party have spoken out against the government’s decision, and are on record as saying that they will reverse the cuts should they win in the upcoming election.

In contrast, the Harper government has refused to reinstate health coverage for refugees. Instead they are appealing the court’s decision and have spent upwards of $1.4 million fighting to preserve the cuts. They continue to misinform Canadians and misrepresent the facts in an attempt to gain public support. We urge Canadian voters to consider the stakes, and review each party’s stance on this issue when preparing to vote in one month’s time.

The recent tragedy of Alan Kurdi and his family has reminded us that there are many faces behind the statistics. As medical students, we can get preoccupied with our own lives and long hours of training — challenges of the path we’ve chosen. But it is important to remind ourselves that nothing separates us from our peers across the globe except for the luck of our circumstances. In fact, some of our fellow medical students or their parents originally arrived in Canada as refugees.

The current renewed attention and compassion being expressed for refugees in crisis comes at a critical time. Our hope is that in the upcoming election, Canadians will hold our next government accountable to take a more empathetic approach in welcoming and caring for new refugees to Canada, and once again lead the world by example.

Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care believes Canada’s approach to medically treating refugees should be guided by fairness and sound public health policy and is calling for an end to the federal government’s cuts to refugee health care.