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B.C. Supreme Court delivers massive win for public health care

Today, B.C.’s Supreme Court struck down a Charter challenge against public health care. Launched by private clinic owner Dr. Brian Day, the case was a direct threat to Canada’s publicly funded medicare system. 

The case, which went to trial in B.C. Supreme Court in 2016, pitted Dr. Day, owner of the private Cambie Surgeries Corp. – a corporation that allows people to pay for access to surgeries – against the British Columbia government. The Canadian government, supporters of public health care and patients also joined the suit. 

More than 10 years ago, an audit of the surgery clinic’s billing revealed that fees were being charged to both the public medicare system as well as directly to patients. When the province finally clamped down on the clinic for double-dipping, Dr. Day launched this Charter challenge, arguing that not allowing people to pay for health care was a violation of their Charter rights. 

The BC Health Coalition, BC Nurses Union and Canadian Doctors for Medicare were all intervenors in the case. They and others argued that if Dr. Day’s case was successful, the doors to private health care would swing wide open – not just in B.C., but across Canada. 

Dr. Day’s legal attack, which had backing from right-wing sources such as the Canadian Constitutional Foundation, sought to invalidate key sections of the BC Medicare Protection Act. The act currently bans doctors from billing the provincial government for medical work done in the public system if they are also earning money through private clinics.  

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling stated that finding in favour of the private clinic would “reduce the capacity of the public system to offer medical care, increase the public system’s costs, create perverse incentives for physicians, increase the risk of ethical lapses related to conflicts between the private and public practices of physicians, undermine political support for the public system, and exacerbate inequity in access to medically necessary care.” 

Privatization would cause further inequitable access to timely care

Expert evidence provided at the trial from both sides proved that “private health care would not decrease wait times in the public system and there is expert evidence that wait times would actually increase. This would cause further inequitable access to timely care,” according to the ruling. 

B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Steeves concluded that “in the context of a complex social program such as health care where there is a need to balance conflicting interests and claims over limited resources, a high degree of deference is owed to the government under [section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.] Bearing this in mind, I find that (…) preserving and ensuring the sustainability of the universal public health care system and ensuring access to necessary medical services is based on need and not the ability to pay, are pressing and substantial.” 

Historic victory against profit-driven care

“This is a historic victory against profit-driven health care in Canada,” said Dr. Danyaal Raza, Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. “We know that single-payer publicly-funded health care is the fairest way to pay for health care, rather than forcing patients to pay out-of-pocket or buy private insurance. This case was never about wait times – it was always about profit.” 

Edith MacHattie, co-chair of the BC Health Coalition said, “this is a victory for everyone who uses health care in Canada. Even though the attack had been launched in B.C., it took aim at the very heart of the Canada Health Act and every provincial health care insurance plan.” 

The Council of Canadians, through our local chapters and coalition work, supported the intervenors in this case as part of our commitment to strengthened public health care.  

Today, we join with our coalition partners in celebrating this important win!