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Friday, June 10, 2005

Quebec ban on private health insurance unconstitutional, flood of litigation from other provinces sure to follow

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec’s ban on purchasing private medical insurance violated Quebec’s constitution. “The message from six out of nine judges was that if you are going to ban access to private health care, you can’t allow waiting lists to grow to the point that patient’s lives are in jeopardy,” said Victoria lawyer Robert Janes.

As Janes predicted several years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that making a person suffer on ever lengthening medical wait lists is a breach of their rights to liberty and the security of the person.

This unfortunately is a decision that for now applies only to Quebec. However the Supreme Court’s decision will likely trigger a flood of litigation in provinces like BC and Alberta where the legislation banning private health insurance is identical to that of Quebec.

Essentially the Supreme Court of Canada has faced up to the reality that as our public health care system collapses under the weight of our aging population base, people have lost their health, their freedom and even their lives while being relegated to ever lengthening surgical waiting lists.

It is worth remembering some of those that have died. Nineteen-year-old Mary-Louise Carlos of Saanich died December 21, 2004 of meningitis after being turned away from the ER at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. While 42 year old Baljit Singh Bains died February 13, 2005 after being discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital because they did not have a bed available for him.

For years now WCB claimants have received treatment at private health care facilities, while the wealthy and the desperate have resorted to seeking private health care services abroad. What this decision opens up is the possibility that as Canadians we can purchase supplementary private health insurance so that if injury or illness occurs we can get treated right away at a private health care facility.

Meanwhile Canadians that can’t afford private health insurance will also benefit, as waiting lists for treatment at public facilities will be significantly reduced. Thus all Canadians will ultimately benefit from this decision.

But before that can happen there needs to be a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that Canada’s ever growing medical waiting lists violates the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and not just the Quebec Constitution.

Once that decision is rendered, Canada will join the rest of the western world in having a mixed private and public health care system. It is a decision that as far as I am concerned cannot come soon enough.
(an edited version of this article was published in the Vancouver daily tabloid 24hrs on Page 5 June 10, 2005)

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