National Disgrace: An Afghan child, his mother, a heartless Canadian “No”

Saaleh was 11 years old when he and his mother arrived in Canada from Afghanistan. They arrived here as legal, sanctioned immigrants. Saaleh’s father did not accompany them. He died in the war, murdered by the Taliban. Saaleh and his mother were sheltered by our soldiers and moved to safety. Saaleh is their only child.

When they arrived in Toronto they were welcomed by their neighbours. Knowing the circumstances, the neighbours got together and purchased a bike for Saaleh, a two wheeler, to welcome him. He was so excited to ride it, he fell off it.

The fall broke Saaleh’s arm. When we first treated him at the Volunteer Clinic, over a week had passed since the fall, without any treatment. His arm was now swollen to twice its size. It was red, inflamed and tender. He came in holding it on a pillow. Any movement was excruciating. Salaah was trying to hold back his tears.

As it turns out Saaleh and his mother sought care for his broken bones from their local community Hospital Emergency Room in Toronto a week earlier, on the day of the fracture. The arm was clearly broken and deformed. The ER triage informed Saaleh’s mother that Saaleh’s Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) was not effective until 3 months after his arrival. His mother was told Saaleh’s fractured and deformed arm did not constitute “an emergency”. She was informed she needed to produce $500 up front before her son would be treated.

Not having the funds, they left, went home, and waited in their apartment – for a week. Saaleh’s mother told us she was too embarrassed to ask for help again, she couldn’t afford to pay for her son’s care and felt ashamed of that, and did not want to offend her new country. She feared they might be “sent back”. She could not bear the thought of putting Saaleh in harm’s way, again.

Saaleh was to attend school the day after his fracture, on the Monday. He didn’t. For a refugee child from a war zone, getting into school with his new friends is the best therapy of all.

Over the ensuing week, Saaleh’s pain and swelling became unbearable. That is when their worker told them about the Volunteer Clinic. We did not have the funds to pay for the ER and orthopedic care they needed. Our nurse and doctor took Saaleh and his mother to the ER. They knew the ER doc on duty. He got Saleh in the back door. X-rays were taken. A cast was applied, ironically by a healthcare worker who himself was a recent refugee claimant to Canada. There was no bill given.

Saaleh made a full recovery. When we took his cast off, he proudly kept it. All of his classmates had signed it.

If it was the job of a Canadian soldier to help Saaleh and his mother, to get him to safety, and if it was his mother’s job to get him away from the violence that claimed his father, and bring her only child to Canada for safety, then when they arrive here, it is our job when they are sick and injured -to help them. It is not our job to demand payment up front and when they can’t pay, send an 11 year old new Canadian boy with a broken arm home, untreated.

No. That is certainly not our job. Provincial and Federal policies  promote this and other cases like it. They make Canada an International disgrace on the human rights world stage. Healthcare organizations who are supposed to protect a refugee child from harm, and ensure he does not suffer needlessly, well….. there was another way.

An Afghan child survives a brutal war only to be put in greater harm’s way by the Nation he  adopted and asked for safety and sanctuary.

What has become of us?


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