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“Other” Troubles: Deconstructing Perceptions and Changing Responses to Refugees in Canada


Canadian national identity is based on a self-image of humanitarianism and liberality governed by ethical and moral principles of social justice, universal health care and equity for all. However, recent changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) demonstrate that the current discourse on refugee policy in Canada is built on a socially constructed image of “the refugee.” Drawing on contemporary refugee literature we look at how refugees are constructed as the ‘Other,’ both nationally and internationally. Using the recent changes to the IFHP as a case example, we demonstrate that the construction of “the refugee” as an Other has informed the cuts to refugee care in Canada. Exposing Othering in Canadian refugee policy is necessary for providing helpful and equitable treatment to refugees in Canada

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  1. We acknowledge that ‘refugee’ is not an essential state of being or an individual identity, but rather it is a social construction of those individuals who find themselves in a situation where their security is jeopardized, as outlined by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. We use the phrase “the refugee” in this paper within quotation marks to acknowledge this construction, and as a way of problematizing the way in which refugees are essentialized and the heterogeneity within and between individual refugee experiences is negated.

  2. Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, to achieve power over another, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation at a minimum can include prostitution of others, or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

  3. The Refugee Assistance Program provides support that can last up to 1 year from date of arrival in Canada or until the person is independent. It may include accommodation, clothing, food, finding employment, and other resettlement assistance.


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Correspondence to Fern Brunger.

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Olsen, C., El-Bialy, R., Mckelvie, M. et al. “Other” Troubles: Deconstructing Perceptions and Changing Responses to Refugees in Canada. J Immigrant Minority Health 18, 58–66 (2016).

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