A male patient is prepped to have a cyst removed from his right knee at the Cambie Surgery Centre, in Vancouver on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. Dr. Brian Day, a self-styled champion of privatized health care, is bringing his fight to British Columbia Supreme Court on Tuesday for the start of a months-long trial he says is about patients’ access to affordable treatment, while his opponents accuse him of trying to gut the core of Canada’s medical system. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A male patient is prepped to have a cyst removed from his right knee at the Cambie Surgery Centre, in Vancouver on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. Dr. Brian Day, a self-styled champion of privatized health care, is bringing his fight to British Columbia Supreme Court on Tuesday for the start of a months-long trial he says is about patients’ access to affordable treatment, while his opponents accuse him of trying to gut the core of Canada’s medical system. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

Dr. Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time

A framed iconic photo in Dr. Brian Day’s office shows Muhammad Ali raising a triumphant gloved hand as he stares down at his opponent splayed on the mat after a first-round boxing knockout less than two minutes into the fight.

Day, 72, will step into a courtroom on Monday as final arguments begin in the culmination of a battle he launched a decade ago against the British Columbia government based on a constitutional challenge saying patients have a right to pay for private care if the public system leaves them waiting too long.

“I stayed up to listen to the fight on the radio,” Day said of the legendary spectacle between Ali and Sonny Liston in 1965, adding he stopped boxing in his native Liverpool, England, at age 11 as his peers began outgrowing him.

He took on the provincial government, and in effect the “myth” of Canada’s single-tier universal health-care system, in 2009 and the case landed in B.C. Supreme Court in 2016 with support from four patients.

Other countries, including Switzerland, Germany and England, that offer a parallel public-private system of care have managed to shorten wait lists, he said.

“We’re the only jurisdiction on Earth where private health insurance for medically necessary care is unlawful, unless you’re an injured worker,” Day said after doing knee surgery on a 61-year-old patient from Alberta, the first of his eight procedures that day, some involving people whose costs would be covered by B.C.’s workers’ compensation agency.

That’s unfair to children and others needing surgery because they must choose to either pay for private clinics or suffer through delays in public hospitals, he said.

“One of the witnesses in our trial was a welder who had previously undergone surgery for a knee ligament injury on one knee and came back a few years later with the same injury in the other knee but he hurt it in sports on one knee and got an MRI quickly and on the other side was told it was going to be 18 months.”

However, government lawyers say in written closing arguments that Day’s claims of the plaintiff patients having been deprived of life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the charter are problematic because those protections apply to issues of justice, not health care.

Rather than a constitutional challenge, the government alleges Day’s case amounts to ”political theatre” and an attempt to force change on the health-care system for the financial benefit of doctors who earn more money from wealthy patients going to private clinics.

The province also says Day’s lawyers have failed to establish that patients any suffer harm by waiting for services.

READ MORE: B.C. health ministry moves to bar extra billing

Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time for surgeons who couldn’t get it in public hospitals and profit was never a motive.

In 2018, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000 for a first offence and $20,000 for a second violation of its Medicare Protection Act if they charged patients for publicly available services. He said the ’Don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach, which allowed private-clinic surgeries and diagnostic tests to continue because provisions of the law had not been enforced, would come to an end.

However, Day successfully sought an injunction that prompted B.C. Supreme Court Justice Janet Winteringham to order the government not to enforce sections of the act until their validity could be established at trial, which is expected to conclude Dec. 6 with the trial judge.

Days before the start of closing arguments, the surgeon said the injunction order was a positive sign he would prevail in his court battle because Winteringham recognized patients would “suffer serious physical and/or psychological harm while waiting for health services” if they couldn’t turn to private clinics.

READ MORE: B.C. is using taxpayer money to outlast plaintiffs in health-care trial: critic

Winteringham’s words apply generally to the “nonsense” of an inadequate universal health-care system that doesn’t meet patients’ needs, said Day, a former president of the Canadian Medical Association.

“It’s unconstitutional. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot promise health care, then not deliver it in a timely way, then outlaw the patients’ ability to access it independently,” he said.

“I’m confident that the evidence is in that major harm is being done to patients by the health system as it operates.”

The federal government is an intervener in his trial, along with Canadian Doctors for Medicare, the B.C. Nurses’ Union and the B.C. Health Coalition.

Dr. Danyaal Raza, board chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, said the delivery of health care is being reorganized around the country and some changes are based on a model in Richmond, B.C., where a hospital reduced wait times for hip and knee surgeries through efficiencies such as booking surgeries centrally.

“It’s a model that Alberta has also pursued and now in Ontario we’re learning from the experience of B.C. and Alberta and we’re learning from that experience how to approach back pain,” the family doctor said from Toronto.

READ MORE: Private clinics win injunction against B.C. law that banned them

“I think the pace of change needs to speed up,” he said. “If we go down the road that Dr. Day wants to take us, wait lists are not going to get better, they’re going to get worse. So, we really have to decide when we make changes to the health-care system, do we want changes that are going to benefit everyone or do we want to make changes that prioritize those who can pay?”

He said a parallel public-private system has not worked in some countries, including Australia and Scotland.

Day said his case has so far cost $6 million, with much of the money raised by the Canadian Constitution Foundation, but the province has refused to divulge how much it has paid in taxpayers’ dollars since 2009.

Derek From, a lawyer with the foundation, said the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner ordered the government to release the amount at the foundation’s request but the government won an appeal of the decision in court though his group is in the process of filing an appeal of that ruling.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Paramedics here responded to twice as many overdose calls in 2020 as they did in 2019. The above is a staged photo showing the kind of work paramedics perform in the field. (Photo courtesy BC Emergency Health Services)
Drug overdose calls climb in Houston

Increase among the highest in the province

Greg Gowe at the Vancouver airport, on his way to a clinical trial appointment in Montreal in November 2020. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
Hope through ALS clinincal trials needed in the province, says B.C. man

Greg Gowe, diagnosed with ALS calls on the government for better treatment options

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

Progress on talks delayed due to pandemic but all parties say they remain committed to the process

Telkwa Village Office sign. (Marisca Bakker photo)
Three candidates line up to contest Telkwa byelection

Erik Jacobsen, Klaus Kraft and Dave Livesey have all filed their paperwork for vacant council seat

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Most Read