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Migrant worker with cancer in N.S. gets provincial health-care coverage

Kerian Burnett, a migrant worker from Jamaica who was diagnosed with cervical cancer while working on a farm in Nova Scotia in 2022, is shown holding her newly issued Nova Scotia health card.  (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
Kerian Burnett, a migrant worker from Jamaica who was diagnosed with cervical cancer while working on a farm in Nova Scotia in 2022, is shown holding her newly issued Nova Scotia health card. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

A migrant worker from Jamaica now living in Nova Scotia received some good news last week.

Kerian Burnett, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2022 while working on a Nova Scotia farm, received her Nova Scotia health card in the mail last week.

"I'm overwhelmed with this news and I'm very happy about it," said Burnett, who continues to recover from cancer and now has medical services insurance coverage. "I felt the envelope and I could tell there was a card in it, so I just ripped it open and there it was."

In 2023, Burnett received positive news on her application to the interim federal health program (IFHP), which covered her cancer treatments. But the coverage, along with her temporary resident permit (TRP), was set to expire on January 10, 2024.

On January 4, 2024, Kerian received a positive decision on her request to renew her status and was granted a work permit through to July 4, 2025. Since she was granted the work permit, she was deemed eligible for MSI.

"We come here to Nova Scotia year after year to do work and we are part of your community and we pay taxes so we should get the same services as anybody else," said Burnett, who is continuing to recover.

Stacey Gomez (left) and Kerian Burnett addressed the media outside the Nova Scotia Legislature on Monday.
Stacey Gomez (left) and Kerian Burnett addressed the media outside the Nova Scotia Legislature on Monday.

Migrant worker advocate Stacey Gomez, left, and Kerian Burnett addressed the media outside the Nova Scotia Legislature on Monday. (Paul Palmeter/CBC))

Stacey Gomez, manager of the migrant worker program with No One Is Illegal in Halifax, said Kerian's news is "a win for migrant worker rights."

"This news is very welcome and it's been a long time coming," said Gomez.

In 2022, Burnett had been picking strawberries for two months on a farm in Colchester County, N.S., when she started to feel sick. She was fired from her job and was later diagnosed with cervical cancer. Burnett had racked up about $81,000 in bills after two surgeries.

She has six children and one grandchild back in Jamaica.

"Migrant workers are in a very vulnerable situation because their health coverage is in the hands of their employer," said Gomez.

"If people like Kerian had permanent resident status on their arrival, they would have access to essential services like healthcare coverage."

Gomez and Burnett addressed the media in front of the Nova Scotia legislature.

They are calling on the provincial government to immediately provide Kerian and all migrant workers with MSI coverage on arrival, as is the case for migrant farm workers in provinces like Ontario and Quebec.

The Nova Scotia government has so far declined to do so.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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