What we heard at the Cambie Appeal

Last week (June 14-18, 2021) we listened to the BC Court of Appeal’s hearing for the Cambie case.

Appellate courts look at potential errors in how the law was applied in the trial judge’s verdict. The appellants [led by Cambie Surgeries Corporation], however, attempted to re-try some of their arguments by presenting just a small cherry-picked selection of the evidence heard at trial. 

Counsel for the attorneys general of Canada (AG-C) and BC (AG-BC) both argued that equity is a key objective of both the Canada Health Act and the BC Medicare Protection Act (MPA). They also outlined why data on wait times cannot be viewed as black and white, that there are many factors that go into the length of a patient’s wait time (including decisions made by patients and their physicians), and that the appellants have failed to identify how the MPA actually causes those extended wait times.  

The appellants had a few core arguments, all of which were swiftly rebutted by AB-C and AG-BC:

  1. They say that some wait times data showing some patients wait longer than the provincial benchmarks is evidence of a “risk” of harm for those patients; a mere risk is, they say, sufficient to invoke Charter rights.
  2. They argue that the purpose of the legislation is only to ensure equity in access within BC’s publicly-funded system, not for privately-funded care.
  3. They argue that concerns around physician resourcing (draining of resources from the publicly-funded system to care for private pay patients) could be addressed through regulation and point to international examples where they claim this has been successful.

The appellants also argue that this case isn’t about the wealthy having improved access to care. They say that the rise in crowd-funding and community support resources could help everyone pay for faster access to care. Who needs a public health care system when you can use Go-Fund-Me to pay for your surgery instead?!

Our counsel supported both the AG-C and AG-BC in our submission that the objective of the legislation is to ensure equity in access for all patients, both inside and out of the publicly-funded system. We also argued that patients with complex cases depending on the public system would be more harmed by the impacts of the duplicative system than those seeking to pay for quicker access to elective care. 

We remain confident in the strength and breadth of the decision from the BC Supreme Court last September. This case, which involved nearly 200 days in court at the trial level and more than 880 pages in the decision, is one of the most significant in Canadian legal history. We know that the evidence is on our side.

So … what’s next? Unfortunately, again we have to wait. Our legal counsel anticipates that it will be at least 6 months before a verdict is reached in this appeal. Regardless of the outcome we will almost certainly be headed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

As the Coalition Intervenors we remain committed to pursuing the case and will keep you posted along the way. Please encourage your friends and family to sign the pledge in support of public health care so they can learn more about this important fight. We wouldn’t be where we are without the support of people like you, so thank you! We will continue to share updates on the case as we have them.