The BC Supreme Court has reached its decision in a fiercely contested court case about privatized healthcare and doctors’ billing practices, in which the plaintiffs argued that a “two-tier” health care system would broaden access to private care for those who could afford to take advantage. Cambie Surgeries Corporation v. British Columbia (Attorney General), 2020 BCSC 1310 considers big questions about Canadian societal and political values, physician ethics, and potential inequities in our healthcare system.
Dr. Brian Day, the owner of Cambie Surgeries, a private surgery clinic in Vancouver, mounted the challenge against certain sections of BC’s Medicare Protection Act (“Act”) back in 2009. Cambie Surgeries, along with a number of individual plaintiffs, argued that a two-tier system would allow for more timely care for patients who could pay. Dr. Day admitted that his clinic had been contravening the Act for over 20 years.
The plaintiffs claimed that the impugned provisions of the Act violated their rights under sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 7 protects the right to life, liberty and security of the person, while section 15 protects individuals from discrimination before and under the law. With regards to section 7, Justice Steeves found that the unreasonable wait times faced by the plaintiffs did infringe upon their right to security of the person, but not in a way that was contrary to the “principles of fundamental justice”. As for the section 15 challenge, Justice Steeves found that the provisions do not discriminatorily “confer a benefit or impose a burden” on a particular group based on an enumerated or analogous ground such as race, religion, sex, age, or disability. He accordingly dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim.
The trial did not begin until 2016, and proceeded to run for three-and-a-half years. Forty different experts provided evidence. Justice Steeves himself stated during the trial that he believed this case will go all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, regardless of the decision he ultimately rendered.