BC Government successfully prevents taxpayers from knowing how much it’s spending fighting against patient rights

BC Government successfully prevents taxpayers from knowing how much it’s spending fighting against patient rights

Last week, the BC Supreme Court permitted the province to keep secret from the public how much money it has spent since 2009 fighting against patients suffering on waiting lists who want their government to respect their Charter right to timely treatment. Since 2009, the BC government has been litigating against patient plaintiffs who have suffered as a result of rationed healthcare and who have benefited from services offered by private clinics, like the Cambie Surgery Centre, which have legally operated in BC for more than two decades.

In August of 2017, the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), which is supporting the plaintiffs’ Charter challenge, filed a request under BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), asking the BC government to come clean on just how much taxpayer money it has spent so far fighting to deny patients their right to timely healthcare treatment.

Our request asked the government to disclose:

The cost of litigation… lawyers’ salaries, courtroom and other litigation fees, document production cost and other case-related expenses and disbursements, witness fees and disbursements…and any and all other information assigning any cost to the Government connected in any way to the litigation of the this case… incurred since 2009.
In response, the officials in charge of managing the request prepared a document containing the global figure that we had requested. The BC government then stonewalled us forcing an adjudicator to decide whether BC taxpayers were entitled to know how much of their own money had been spent to date.

On August 15, 2018, the adjudicator from the BC Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) ordered that the CCF’s request must be granted and the financial information made public. The BC government appealed this decision, claiming, among other things, that if the true financial cost of the trial were known by the public, it could be used to embarrass the government.

Last week’s decision protects the BC government from fulfilling the CCF’s request. The CCF’s lawyers and staff continue to review the court’s decision.

CCF Staff Lawyer, Derek From, said:

We are obviously disappointed with this result since we firmly believe in the importance of government transparency, especially in the context of this case where the government is so vigorously opposing patients’ constitutional rights. As a charity, the CCF makes every effort to be frugal with donor resources, and we have spent approximately $7.2 million so far. To me, this decision shows two things: first, the cost of this sort of litigation is far outside the financial means of nearly every Canadian; and second, the BC government—which has no real financial constraints on its use of taxpayers’ resources—has likely spent far more than the CCF just to block patients from accessing timely healthcare.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation (“Freedom’s Defence Team”) is a registered charity, independent and non-partisan, whose mission is to defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through education, communication and litigation.

You can find the original release here.