You want to be part of the global uprising, Toronto? You want a reason to Occupy? Dr. Jerry Green gave you a voice in court room 802 on Wednesday morning, articulating in eloquent, heart-rendering words why you must fight a system that isn’t working for you, me, him or anyone else in this province. What’s wrong with Canada isn’t so much about what transpires on Bay Street. Our financial system is okay, relative to the rest of the world. Our medical system, on the other hand, is a mess. And there are people responsible for making it so who need to know right now that we won’t take it anymore.
In the corridors of our hospitals, emergency rooms and waiting areas, we are being neglected and at a much-too-empty hearing in Ontario Superior Court, Green stood up for us, challenging a beast of a system that has turned into the kind of ugly power-wielding entity with which Canadians don’t want to be associated. We’re proud of being inclusive, of expanding opportunities for newcomers and living in a society where doing the right thing ought to prevail. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is so far away from doing the right thing it’s criminal, Green said during deliberations of his lawsuit that includes an $11.5-million claim against the CPSO for breaking a provincial rule requiring it to provide “access to adequate numbers of doctors” for our 13.3 million residents.
Green’s lawsuit is based on a change of legislation that occurred three years ago. When Bill 97 was passed into law by the McGuinty government, it included Section 2.1 of Schedule 2 of the Regulated Health Professions Act that requires the CPSO to ensure we have enough physicians and surgeons to treat each and every one of us. The CPSO, as Green brilliantly pointed out in court, argued against this change in the legislation in 2008.
According to transcripts, Dr. Preston Zuliani, the then-chair of the council of the CPSO, told a Standing Committee on Social Policy: “We have concerns that if it becomes our duty to make sure that there are enough doctors and we don’t [sic] the ability to do so, we could be challenged legally in some of the things we’re doing.”
The CPSO contended there are other governing bodies involved in the licensing of doctors. In passing Bill 97 into law without amending it as Zuliani hoped, the government seemed to indicate it believes the College is the chief body in charge of overseeing the supply of doctors to the province. Green said Zuliani’s concern that the CPSO “could be challenged legally” serves as evidence of its wrongdoing.
“I am here representing all of the foreign-trained doctors and all of the patients of this province who are not being treated fairly,” Green said in a voice that crackled. He then teared up at the podium while facing Kevin W. Whitaker, the presiding Superior Court Justice. With his hands gripping the sides of the podium, his head down and shoulders hunched, Green looked very much like a man carrying a weight greater than one person should bear. He represented himself after going over law books for three years in preparation for this opportunity. Standing alone in the middle of the small court room at 393 University Avenue, Green also served as the council for a mass of people, yet the only person within arm’s reach of him was his adversary.
It was in that moment when he displayed emotion that the court room paused and everyone — Whitaker, the bailiff, the court reporter, the nearby CPSO attorney and the half dozen of us onlookers in the rear — had to have realized Green was not at all concerned about the potential monetary payoff. For him, this case is about notions of justice and its opposite.
He composed himself admirably and continued with his 50-minute presentation of evidence on behalf of himself, foreign-trained doctors and you, Ontario.
He said internationally trained medical graduates (IMGs) are forced to deliver pizzas instead of health care because the CPSO isn’t following the law to provide adequate numbers of doctors. When foreign doctors arrive in Canada, often after being recruited by the federal government, they find onerous obstacles to practice that include a difficult-to-obtain residency and, as Green noted, a member of the CPSO has said doctors in such a situation would “flounder” if they were to be away from practice for five years or more while completing Ontario’s training requirements. “Many of the doctors have been practicing successfully for many years in other countries,” Green said. Several of those countries also have medical rankings superior to Canada’s, according to the World Health Organization.
It’s estimated there are about 7,000 foreign-trained doctors in Ontario who are not licensed while the doctor shortage in the province has reached epidemic status with more than 4,000 needed and roughly 1 million people living without a family physician. Every one of us has suffered through or knows someone who has endured pain because they couldn’t receive health care when it was needed.
Green thinks it’s time we said no more suffering, no more wait times, no more living with a system that violates Ontario’s constitution. He feels a small group in the doctors union wants to limit the number of licensed physicians in order to avoid competition for the dollars that come with seeing patients.
For its part, the CPSO said Green’s case is baseless. The defendant’s attorney, Michelle Gibbs, stated that Green had his licence revoked in 1987 for incompetence. Green was stripped of his privilege to practice after treating patients with alternative medicine in Toronto. He said those alternative treatments, which included the prescription of vitamins, have since been adopted by the province and other jurisdictions. Gibbs also said Green was given an educational licence by the CPSO and could have regained his practicing licence if he completed the training required by the overseeing body. Green said he took courses and did hospital rounds but was unable to get a residency because of obstruction by the CPSO, which was reported in the Toronto Sun more than 10 years ago. Gibbs said Green’s situation isn’t the same as an IMG because he was born, raised and educated in Toronto. Green, who started the city’s first community health centre in 1968 and ran for election as an Independent candidate in the provincial election this month, said the CPSO’s regulations do put him in the category of an IMG because he is seeking re-entry into the health-care system, placing him in the same predicament as a foreign-trained doctor. Gibbs appeared to indicate that Green’s repeated attempts to get his practicing licence back from the College amounted to a nuisance for the courts. Green said he wasn’t challenging the CPSO for failing to return his licence, he was suing for a much, much bigger reason: The failure of the College to live up to its duty as mandated by recently enacted legislation.
In the end, Whitaker withheld judgment, saying he would have a decision in one to four weeks.
While he looks over the evidence, emergency rooms will continue to fill, the wait time for that MRI will pass painfully slow, the family physician visit you’ve been struggling to get will prove more elusive, and the self-diagnosis you’re forced to perform had better be right. And if you happen not to be ill at the moment, you sure should be sick of this system.
So, are you willing to fight for yourself and for those you care about? Are you willing to go against the powers ruling a health-care system that works for no one you or I know? Are you willing to stand up — or sit down en masse — for the most necessary change our community needs?
Others in the world are battling against financial inequality and political oppression. What Dr. Jerry Green wants us in Toronto and Ontario to fight for is something monumentally greater: Our every breath. And that’s no exaggeration. Email him with your support and he will tell you how to get involved and where to Occupy.
MORE HEALTH-CARE NEWS
Jerry Green’s crusade to heal Canada’s health-care woes