The plaintiffs in a Charter challenge to BC’s excessive wait times for necessary medical treatment have requested an adjournment today because the Defendant’s litigation tactics have caused them to run out of funds.
The trial, which began in the BC Supreme Court on September 6th 2016, is about whether patients have been denied their constitutional rights to timely medical care. By failing to provide timely public health care to suffering patients, while simultaneously prohibiting them from obtaining that care privately, the Province is violating their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The case started 7 years ago and the trial was scheduled for 24 weeks, but after 7 months there is no end in sight.
The plaintiffs include four individual patients deprived of timely medical care in the public system, including one who waited 27 months for spine surgery as a child, and Cambie Surgeries, a small private clinic that has operated in Vancouver for over 20 years.
Dr. Brian Day, President of Cambie Surgeries, said:
“From the beginning of the case, Crown lawyers have pursued a tactic of using their virtually-unlimited taxpayer funds to exhaust our limited resources. On any given day our lawyers are outnumbered 10 to 1 in the courtroom. Objections are made to almost every attempt to introduce evidence by patients, doctors, and even by renowned healthcare experts. We have not been able to pay our legal bills for several months. We have no choice but to ask the court for a break to raise more funds so that we can carry on.”
Millions of tax dollars are being spent to oppose the case. There are at least 20 lawyers and several teams of paralegals and researchers, funded by the federal and BC governments and intervenors, working against the plaintiffs, who are usually represented in court by a single lawyer.
Howard Anglin, Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which is supporting the plaintiffs, said:
“While governments spend millions of dollars trying to avoid the political consequences of a decision condemning their abysmal record of harmful wait lists and patient suffering, they are bleeding the plaintiffs’ financial resources dry. This is not simply unjust; it is a profound threat to the ability of ordinary Canadians to hold governments accountable for violations of individuals’ Charter rights. Canadians suffering on wait lists have the right to take control of their own bodies and arrange for private medical treatment. It is a right that has been endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada, and which exists in every other developed country.”
A few months ago, the BC Health Minister proudly announced an increase of $25 million to try to reduce unacceptable wait times. Just a mile or two away similar amounts are being spent in court to argue that the more than 85,000 patients on hospital wait lists suffer no real harm as they wait.
Dr. Brian Day said:
“Private clinics in BC, like Cambie, treat over 60,000 patients each year. If the plaintiffs lose this case, the clinics will be closed and these patients will be added to the public hospital wait lists. This would mean even longer waits for all, and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars that WorkSafe BC saves annually by getting injured workers back to work. Without doctors permitted to work above and beyond the limited operating hours they are allocated in public hospitals, more patients will suffer as they languish on wait lists.”
The trial of a similar case in Quebec took under four months. Quebec’s restrictions, which were similar to those that now exist in BC, were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2005 Chaoulli case, where the court ruled that “access to a waiting list is not access to health care”.
“Success in this case will lead to all Canadians gaining the same freedoms from suffering that the Supreme Court said Canadians living in Quebec deserve”, said Dr. Day.
The plaintiffs intend to use the period of the adjournment to raise further funds from the public and supporters so they can resume their constitutional challenge on behalf of all Canadians who are suffering, or will suffer in the future, from cruel and worsening public wait lists.
Canadians can help by making tax deductible donations to the case. Learn more about supporting this constitutional challenge at www.yourhealthcantwait.ca.