Supporters of Canada’s universal health care system filled the front steps of the B.C. Supreme Court in downtown Vancouver early Tuesday, the opening day of a crucial court battle over the future of medicare that has been years in the making.
“Today Brian Day is launching a lawsuit against our Canadian health care system. He wants doctors to be able to charge Canadians whatever they want for medical procedures,” said Edith MacHattie, co-chair of the BC Health Coalition, which is steadfastly opposed to privatization. “If Brian Day is successful with this lawsuit, we could see a total surge of private insurance companies that are just waiting to make money.”
Dr. Day, whose Cambie Surgery Centre has been a flashpoint of controversy and debate over the future of health care in Canada, casts himself as a campaigner for constitutional rights simply seeking to open up more private practices in order to reduce wait times in the public system.
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Dr. Michael Klein, a board member with Canadian Doctors for Medicare, was on hand Tuesday and rejected Dr. Day’s argument. “The system is under stress, but his cure, to insert private health care into the system, is worse than the disease,” Dr. Klein told Ricochet.
“The waiting lists need to be addressed, but to address them by increasing private health care will increase the waiting lists for those who can’t afford to pay. Because every time a patient jumps the queue, a doctor jumps the queue as well, and that doctor is therefore unavailable in the public system. And this has been true in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.”
Klein, who has practised medicine in both the United States and Canada, said he is “terrified” that this case could make Canadian health care more like the U.S. system.
The Council of Canadians organized a rally outside the court, which featured health care practitioners and researchers, as well as leaders from trade unions and civil society.
David Black, president of the union MoveUP, told Ricochet that his members have proudly supported the BC Health Coalition in advocating against Dr. Day’s legal challenge for a number of years. “Our members decided this was a fight they really wanted to take on. They wanted to support and stand in solidarity with the Canadian health care system and stop creeping privatization,” Black said.
When asked about Dr. Day’s comments to the media likening himself to civil rights champions like Muhammad Ali, Black responded, “Dr. Day tells the media he’s doing this for other people. Let’s be clear: Dr. Day stands to make a lot of money if this case is successful. It’s not about helping Canadians. It’s about profits and lining the pockets of the wealthy.”
The main defendant in this case is the Province of British Columbia, while the BC Health Coalition and other interested parties have intervenor status. The case is expected to last six months or more.