The Stories We Tell about Refugee Claimants: Contested Frames of the Health-Care Access Question in Canada


  • Jesse Beatson McGill University



Canada, Interim Federal Health Program, health care access, refugee claimants, frame theory, health rights, advocacy, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care


A contested issue is the extent to which refugee claimants should have access to health care in Western host countries with publicly subsidized health-care systems. In Canada, for a period of over fifty years, the federal government provided relatively comprehensive health coverage to refugees and refugee claimants through the Interim Federal Health Plan (IFHP). Significant cuts to the IFHP were implemented in June 2012 by the Conservative federal government (2006–15), who justified these cuts through public statements portraying refugee claimants as bringing bogus claims that inundate the refugee determination system. A markedly different narrative was articulated by a pan-Canadian coalition of health providers who characterized refugee claimants as innocent victims done further harm by inhumane health-care cuts. This article presents an analysis of these two positions in terms of frame theory, with a greater emphasis on the health-provider position. This debate can be meaningfully analyzed as a contest between competing frames: bogus and victim. Frame theory suggests that frames by nature simplify and condense, in this case packaging complex realities about refugee claimants into singular images (bogus and victim), aiming to inspire suspicion and compassion respectively. It will be argued that the acceptance of current frames impoverishes the conversation by reinforcing problematic notions about refugee claimants while also obscuring a rights-based argument for why claimants should have substantial access to health care.


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Author Biography

Jesse Beatson, McGill University

Jesse Beatson is a Master’s degree candidate in the Psychiatry department at McGill University. 



How to Cite

Beatson, J. (2016). The Stories We Tell about Refugee Claimants: Contested Frames of the Health-Care Access Question in Canada. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 32(3), 125–134.

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