Project Whiplash Ringleader Sent to Prison

Project Whiplash Ringleader Sent to Prison

On February 23, 2012, Toronto Police arrested 37 individuals in connection with an insurance scam. The operation, called Project Whiplash, targeted a group that allegedly staged 77 motor vehicle collisions.

This week the ringleader of the operation, Uthayakanthan Thirunavukkarasu, was sent to prison for 3.5 years and was ordered to pay restitution of $375,000. An estimated $1.2 million flowed through his account for the scam.

At least one of the staged crashes in May 2007 resulted in a brain injury.

Josh Tapper and Wendy Gillis of the Toronto Star explained how the scam worked:

 A recruiter might scope possible participants inside a public space, like a coffee shop, insisting the plan is foolproof, an easy way to earn money. From there, the recruiter acts as coach. He tells people where the accident will occur, where inside the vehicle they should sit and what to tell authorities following the crash…

While police say that numerous collisions allegedly submitted for insurance claims did not actually occur, those that did were also planned carefully. In one collision racket, a scheming driver might stop in front of a laneway and motion an oncoming vehicle to enter traffic; his partner, driving in the opposite lane, then “accidentally” collides with the car… emergency personnel are sometimes called to make the scene more realistic.

With a police investigation underway, the scammers would allegedly forge medical documents claiming injury, often signing on behalf of doctors who never actually assessed the patients. Some of the accused are identified as paralegals, who allegedly filed the insurance claims seeking financial recovery for vehicle damage, physiotherapy, chiropractic work and lost wages.

Insurance companies have decried the practice of staged collisions as one of the reasons for higher premium rates.

Omar Ha-Redeye is the Principal of Fleet Street Law, a full-service law chambers in Toronto.

Nell Toussaint v. Attorney General of Canada, 2011 FCA 213

This week, the Supreme Court of Canada refused leave to appeal from the Federal Court of Appeal in the case of Nell Toussaint v. Attorney General of Canada. The case considers constitutional arguments against the denial of health coverage to people in Canada contrary to immigration law. Human rights advocates denounced the decision citing Canada’s commitment to international human rights which supports the provision of health care to all people even if they have committed the most heinous of crimes. The case, therefore, provides an interesting look at health law in the immigration sphere.

Facts

Ms. Toussaint had come from Grenada in 1999 on a visitor’s visa and never left. She worked until 2006 when her health began to deteriorate and she could no longer work. In order to receive medical benefits, she needed to legitimize her immigration status. In 2008, she attempted to apply for permanent or temporary residency status. She also applied to have the application fees waived but was denied, and so the applications were never processed. In 2009, she applied for benefits under the Interim Federal Health program, in which Citizenship and Immigration Canada covers the cost of emergency medical care for indigent persons that it has legally admitted to Canada under an Order in Council. She was denied coverage because of her illegal immigration status.

She brought an application for judicial review and made the case that a denial of coverage infringed her rights under ss. 7 and 15 of the Charter. The Federal Court dismissed her application, as did the Federal Court of Appeal. As mentioned, the Supreme Court of Canada refused leave to appeal. The crux of the decision in both courts was summarized by Stratas JA. in the FCA decision.

If the Federal Court accepted the appellant’s request, the curiosity of some might be piqued: even though the appellant has disregarded Canada’s immigration laws for the better part of a decade, she would be able to take one of Canada’s immigration laws (the Order in Council), get a court to include her by extending the scope of that law, and then benefit from that extension while remaining in Canada contrary to Canada’s immigration laws.

This is a summary of the FCA decision.

Order in Council Interpretation

The Order in Council (OIC PC 1957–11/848) reads:

The Board recommends that Order in Council P.C. 4/3263 of June 6, 1952, be revoked, and that the Department of National Health and Welfare be authorized to pay the costs of medical and dental care, hospitalization, and any expenses incidental thereto, on behalf of:

(a) an immigrant, after being admitted at a port of entry and prior to his arrival at destination, or while receiving care and maintenance pending placement in employment, and

(b) a person who at any time is subject to Immigration jurisdiction or for whom the Immigration authorities feel responsible and who has been referred for examination and/or treatment by an authorized Immigration officer,

in cases where the immigrant or such a person lacks the financial resources to pay these expenses, chargeable to funds provided annually by Parliament for the Immigration Medical Services of the Department National Health and Welfare.

The Director, Program Management and Control, Health Management Branch decided Ms. Toussaint’s initial application for medical coverage. In his decision, he stated:

The Interim Federal Health Program is an interim measure to provide emergency and essential health care coverage to eligible individuals who do not qualify for private or public health coverage and who demonstrate financial need. IFHP services aim to serve individuals in the following four groups of recipients:

  • Refugee claimants;
  • Resettled Refugees;
  • Persons detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA); and,
  • Victims of Trafficking in Persons (VTIPs).

As you have not provided any information to demonstrate that your client falls into any of the above-mentioned categories, I regret to inform you that your request for IFHP coverage cannot be approved.

Ms. Toussaint argued, first, that “immigrant” in paragraph (a) of the ought to mean “a person who seeks admission to Canada for permanent residence” and that she was in the process of apply for permanent residence. Stratas JA did not accept this interpretation, and instead relied on the definition of an immigrant as set out in the Immigration Act, where

(i) The person seeking admission to Canada for permanent residence was “admitted at a port of entry” but has not “[arrived] at destination,” i.e., is in transit between entry and destination, or

(ii) The person seeking admission to Canada for permanent residence is receiving “care and maintenance pending placement in employment.”

Ms. Toussaint did not fulfill this definition. Stratas JA stressed that the OIC was focused on providing coverage for those who were entering Canada for the first time. The applicant was a visitor who had decided to remain in Canada contrary to immigration laws.

Paragraph (b) of the OIC refers to any “person”, rather than immigrant. Stratas JA again agreed with the Federal Court’s decision in interpreting this paragraph.

However, by way of clarification, “those persons whose status is being processed by the Immigration authorities” must mean a person who sought that status before or upon entry to Canada. The Program could not have been intended to pay the medical expenses of those who arrive as visitors but remain illegally in Canada and who, after the better part of a decade of living illegally in Canada, suddenly choose to try to regularize their immigration status. Coverage for those persons would be against the whole tenor of the Order in Council, the history of the Order in Council, and the Minister’s stated rationale.

The FCA thus agreed with the interpretation of the OIC as excluding Ms. Toussaint from coverage.

Charter Challenges

s. 7 Right to Life and Security of the Person

Ms. Toussaint argued that her exclusion from medical coverage infringed on her right to life and security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter. The court agreed that, despite receiving emergency surgery and life-saving medication without having to pay, Ms. Toussaint was exposed to serious health risks. However, the court did not accept that the Order in Council was the operative cause of the injury to her rights to life and security of the person. (See TrueHope Nutritional Support Limited v. Canada (A.G.), 2011 FCA 114) Rather, the court suggested that the applicant’s own conduct endangered her life, and that had she acted legally and obtained proper immigration status, she would have been entitled to coverage.

Principles of Fundamental Justice

Ms. Toussaint also argued that “[g]overnments ought never to deny access to healthcare necessary to life as a means of discouraging unwanted or illegal activity, including to those who have entered or remained in a country without legal or documented status.” The appellant submits that “[t]his principle is fundamental to judicial and legislative practice in Canada.” Stratas JA rejected this argument as well. In doing so, he cited the broad finding in Chaoulli by McLachlin CJC that the Charter does not confer a freestanding constitutional right to health care (Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General), [2005] 1 S.C.R. 791 at para. 104). Also,

The appellants are, in essence, seeking to expand the law…so as to create a new human right to a minimum level of health care…. [T]he law in Canada has not extended that far…[A] freestanding right to health care for all of the people of the world who happen to be…in Canada would not likely be contemplated by the Supreme Court. (Covarrubias v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2007] 3 F.C.R. 169 at para. 36.)

The court also did not accept an argument that the Order in Council’s exclusion was arbitrary. (at para. 83) Stratas JA took these findings as support that there is no recognized principle to fundamental justice under s. 7 that the applicant receive medical care.

s. 15 Discrimination Under Enumerated and Analogous Grounds

Stratas JA rejected the argument that the applicant had been denied coverage was contrary to s. 15. With regards to discrimination on analogous grounds, he commented

“Immigration status” is not a “[characteristic] that we cannot change.” It is not “immutable or changeable only at unacceptable cost to personal identity.” Finally “immigration status” – in this case, presence in Canada illegally – is a characteristic that the government has a “legitimate interest in expecting [the person] to change.” Indeed, the government has a real, valid and justified interest in expecting those present in Canada to have a legal right to be in Canada. (at para. 99)

A final policy comment was made by the court.

If the appellant were to prevail in this case and receive medical coverage under the Order in Council without complying with Canada’s immigration laws, others could be expected to come to Canada and do the same. Soon, as the Federal Court warned, Canada could become a health care safe haven, its immigration laws undermined. Many, desperate to reach that safe haven, might fall into the grasp of human smugglers, embarking upon a voyage of destitution and danger, with some never making it to our shores. In the end, the Order in Council – originally envisaged as a humanitarian program to assist a limited class of persons falling within its terms – might have to be scrapped.

Alexander Rozine is an Associate at D’Angela Fox Vanounou LLP, a plaintiff-side personal injury firm in Toronto.

Centres of Excellence Under Scrutiny in Niagara

Centres of Excellence Under Scrutiny in Niagara

In 2006, the Province of Ontario restructured health services by dividing them into 14 regions known as Local Health Integration Nerwork (LHINs) through the Local Health System Integration Act.  On April 1, 2007, these LHINs took on full responsibiilty for the provision of health services in their respective regions by bringing together hospitals, community care, community support services, mental health and addictions, health centres and long-term care.

The intent behind LHINs was that local governance would have a better understanding of community needs and engage residents better in making health care decisions.  The success of LHINs in achieving these goals has been questioned, both by policy analysts and Ontario residents.

In the Winter 2011 issue of Niagara Magazine, Lori Littleton and Tanya Hvilivitsky examine the Niagara Health System (NHS) and its hopital improvement plan (HIP).  The Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN directed NHS to review its strategy and address growing deficits.  The HIP developed by NHS included centres of excellence, which would specialize services in specific hospitals within the system. 

But some residents have noted a decrease in service delivery, and many have expressed objections to the manner in which health services are offered in the area, leading to an investigation by the Ontario ombudsman.  The centres of excellence developed by NHS came under particular scrutiny by residents. 

 

After reviewing some of the changes created by centres of excellence and the potential obstacles for residents that resulted, the authors conclude,

…instead of dissolving the NHS union, perhaps the solutions are indeed within the community. Improved communications from the NHS will help–but not heal-the problem.

 

Vital Signs

LHIN SPIN

Omar Ha-Redeye is the Principal of Fleet Street Law, a full-service law chambers in Toronto.
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Broader Public Sector Accountability Act Will Release Hospital Exec Benefits

 On January 1, 2012, Bill 122 – An Act to increase the financial accountability of organizations in the broader public sector  came into force, enacting the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act (BPSSA) with a number of consequences for hospital transparency in Ontario (see s. 29(1)).  Of particular interest by the media this week is that hospital executive and CEOs will have disclosure of their benefits.

Salaries over $100,000  before taxes are already disclosed under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act (PSDA),

Purpose

1.  The purpose of this Act is to assure the public disclosure of the salary and benefits paid in respect of employment in the public sector to employees who are paid a salary of $100,000 or more in a year.

Employers are relieved from including salary disclosures in annual reports if it is made available on a corporate website or the Ministry of Finance website.   Amendments to O.Reg. 85/96 in January 2010 modifed the timing to disclosure requirements for the fifth business day of March each year.  The number of workers in the Ontario public sector earning over $100,000 increased in 2010 by 11 per cent from the previous year.

Part VIII of the Bill makes a series of amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), including adding “hospitals” to the definitions under s. 2(1).  One of the effect of the amendments is that benefits that would otherwise not be disclosed will be made public, including termination clauses and retirment packages.

On November 23, 2010, Eoin Callan of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) explained the purpose of the Bill to the Standing Committee on Social Policy,

The act, if passed, will lead to higher accountability standards for hospitals and local health integration networks. The act will expand freedom-of-information legislation to cover hospitals, it will require hospitals and LHINs to post the expenses of senior executives online and it will require hospitals and LHINs to report annually on their use of consultants.

Each of these steps will contribute to greater transparency. They will bring sunlight to the delivery of vital health care services in the management of the hospitals in our health system, and they will help ensure that precious health dollars go to front-line care. Each of these steps will also ensure that Ontarians get more value out of their investments in public services. Together, with some hope, these steps will increase public confidence in our health care system.

Importantly, LHIN and hospital executives will also see reductions in pay if they fail to comply with the requirements under the act. Forcing executives to pay back taxpayers will increase accountability, and it’s vital we make sure that that enforcement is in place, should this act be passed.

The penalty for non-compliance under the BPSAA is directly related to financial compensation,

Reduction in compensation

20. (2)  Despite any employment or other agreement, the board of a hospital or local health integration network, or the superintendent of a private hospital, may, in addition to any other remedy under the agreement or at common law, reduce the compensation of a person employed in a senior management position where the board or superintendent determines that the person has failed to meet a requirement under this Act.

A copy of the 2011 list for hospitals (2010 figures) under the PSDA follows.

Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act – Hospitals

Omar Ha-Redeye is the Principal of Fleet Street Law, a full-service law chambers in Toronto.