Doige v. British Columbia

[2008] B.C.H.R.T. 158
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Plaintiff Roland Doige alleged that the health premium policies of the Ministry of Finance of British Columbia discriminated against him as a single person. A single beneficiary of the Medical Services Plan (“MSP”) paid a monthly premium rate of CAD 54.00, which was up to CAD 6.00 more per person than would be paid by a beneficiary with: either a spouse or one child; a spouse and one or more children; two or more children and no spouse.

Mr. Doige stated that requiring single people to pay more per person than married people violated s. 8 of the Human Rights Code (non-discrimination on the basis of family status and marital status). As of 2004, Mr. Doige had not paid the full CAD 54.00 premium; instead he had paid CAD 48.00, which was the charge per person for a two-member family. From 2006 onwards, Mr. Doige was receiving premium MSP assistance although he was paying a lower MSP fee.

Ministry of Health representatives testified on the background and purpose of MSP. They testified that single people were better able to acquire premium assistance because the calculation was made based on combined household income. They also testified that as MSP was a form of tax it should be viewed from a holistic “ability to pay” perspective resulting from the Ministry’s calculation of MSP premium rates in a “larger provincial taxation picture”.

The Tribunal held that the facts of this case were not a prima facie breach of s. 8 of the Human Rights Code because the Plaintiff’s higher health premium fees did not undermine his dignity.

Under the Human Rights Code, the complainant bore the burden of proving his complaint on the balance of probabilities which required him to establish a prima facie case that he was discriminated against on the grounds alleged. The respondent then bore the burden of proving that it had a bona fide and reasonable justification for action and that it reasonably accommodated the complainant.

The Tribunal held that Mr. Doige’s case satisfied the first two elements for a prima facie case of discrimination: first, the law indeed distinguished between Mr. Doige and others “on the basis of marital and family status”. Second, this status was the basis for differential treatment. However, the Tribunal determined that the facts of the case did not satisfy the third element: Mr. Doige’s treatment was not substantively discriminatory and it had not demeaned his dignity. This analysis was made from the perspectives of both the Plaintiff and a reasonable person and considered the Supreme Court of Canada’s non-exhaustive list of four contextual factors for determining whether a claimant’s dignity had been demeaned (Law v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1999] 1 S.C.R. 571.)

The Tribunal concluded that economic loss by itself was an insufficient “substantive disadvantage”. Mr. Doige’s higher premiums did not impede his access to health care, and more generally, did not impede single persons’ access to health care.

 

“The real issue in the complaint is whether Mr. Doige has established that this differential treatment is discriminatory in a substantive and purposive sense. Does the differential treatment impose a burden on Mr. Doige in a manner that reflects the stereotypical application of presumed group or personal characteristics, or which otherwise has the effect of perpetuating or promoting the view that, as a single person, he is less capable or worthy of recognition or value as a human being or as a member of Canadian society? For the reasons which follow, I find that Mr. Doige has not established that the differentiation in the premium rates is substantively discriminatory.” Paras. 52 and 53.

The Supreme Court identified four possible contextual factors that may be relevant to determining whether a claimant’s dignity has been demeaned:

a) A pre-existing disadvantage, vulnerability, stereotyping or prejudice experienced by the individual or group;

b) The ground upon which the claim is based and the nature of the differential treatment;

c) The ameliorative purposes or effects of the impugned legislation; and

d) The nature and scope of the interests affected.” Para. 55.

“I cannot find that the premium rates, viewed as part of this complex system, demean single individuals in any way. There is no evidence showing that single individuals are subject to pre-existing disadvantage. The differential rates are not premised upon stereotypical views of the needs and abilities of single individuals, and in no way perpetuate the view that single individuals are less capable or worthy of recognition or value as human beings or as members of Canadian society. Single individuals are not marginalized, ignored, or devalued by the premium rates. While I accept that Mr. Doige finds these differential rates to be unfair and incomprehensible, I find that a reasonable person, fully apprised of the circumstances, would not see those rates as insulting or demeaning.” Para. 76.

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