The decision in Ontario Divisional Court by Justice Ian Nordheimer to discontinue Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) coverage for two injured Jamaican farmer workers may follow the letter of the law, but not the spirit of justice.
Shortly after arriving in Canada under the federal seasonal agricultural workers’ program (SAWP) from Jamaica in August 2012 Kenroy Williams, 40 and Denville Clarke, 43, were seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident near Oakland, Ontario, while being driven by their employer. The two have faced a series of legal wrangling since then while trying to recover.
Each time health coverage had been granted in their favour, Ontario’s ministry of health has mounted legal opposition to reverse the decision. This is despite there being provisions under OHIP for coverage for injured workers under “extraordinary circumstances”.
Surely, the unfortunate events that have robbed Williams and Clarke of their health and capacity to be gainfully employed should fall under this provision.
While their work permits were valid, their health coverage was also in effect. Problems with health coverage arose once the work permits expired.
We have to question the cost of care for these two injured men compared to the outlay by this Liberal government to continue to carry this case to court. It has been suggested that the province has spent tens of thousands of dollars to block healthcare payments for the two farm workers, whose appeals are being handled by legal clinics.
Preventing these two injured farm workers from receiving payments means that a standard would be set to deny similar healthcare compensation in other cases should they arise. However, there is no large mass of injured temporary workers waiting for OHIP or Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) payments.
This is a mean-spirited approach that denies proper healthcare payments to temporary workers by a government that has nevertheless allowed millions to be squandered through poor oversight in the ministry of health on projects like Ornge and the eHealth medical information transfer project.
That this Liberal government would give so much time as well as legal resources to prevent two poor farm workers from getting the medical care they deserve, coming out of a devastating accident that was not their fault, speaks poorly of Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews’ oversight and any others involved in the decision to go back to court after two decisions were made in favour of the farm workers.
Of course, people coming into the province to work on farms cannot vote here.
The other matter that complicates this issue is that the farm workers program is a federal program while health coverage falls to the province. This patchwork of responsibilities means that in cases like this one, the two government bodies can keep kicking liability back and forth, aided by the wording of the law governing who is eligible for healthcare coverage.
But while lawyers play with semantics, the lives of these two people who only wanted to come here to earn wages to provide for their families back home are being treated as some kind of legal football to be tossed back and forth between courts and between the feds and the province.
In fact, Justice Nordheimer came to the conclusion that since SAWP is a federal program, the province should have nothing to do with healthcare provision for the injured workers.
The time to stop chasing this case back and forth has long passed. Not only does this latest decision affect the two injured men, it will also affect their families thousands of kilometers away, who had been dependent on the income earned through the farm workers program.
The province and the feds must come to an agreement that will be fair to injured temporary workers and immediately stop injured temporary foreign workers from being held for ransom in this dilemma. This is no way to run a program and it sends a very bad message about how this country and this province regard people who come here on a temporary basis to contribute their labour in exchange for much needed income to support those back home.
The two levels of government involved have to do better than this.