(Canadian OH&S News) — The Divisional Court, a branch of the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, held a hearing on March 25, pertaining to the recent decision by the Health Services Appeal and Review Board (HSARB) to allow Ontario migrant workers to have their healthcare benefits extended in extraordinary cases. The Ontario government has continued to appeal this decision.
The appeal stems from the case of two Jamaican migrant workers, Denville Clarke and Kenroy Williams, who were seriously injured in a van accident in August 2012. The accident killed one passenger and injured six others besides Clarke and Williams. Their health coverage was originally scheduled to expire on Dec. 15 of that year; the provincial government denied the workers’ request for an extension, but the HSARB later ruled that extreme circumstances like medical emergencies warranted extended coverage. The board renewed the decision in October after the government’s first appeal.
“It went well, I think,” said community legal worker Jessica Ponting, referring to the recent hearing. “Fingers crossed, they’ll come back with a good decision.” Ponting works with the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO), a Toronto community legal clinic representing Clarke and Williams.
One of the government’s arguments has been that the workers were not entitled to extended coverage because they didn’t have valid work permits. But they were working under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, and IAVGO has countered that immigration status doesn’t matter in such government programs.
“Workers need to be able to get [Ontario Health Insurance Plan] coverage and healthcare after their work permit expires. If they’re a migrant worker that got injured here, they should be able to have the choice and the means to stay here for healthcare, especially when they’re talking about such compelling circumstances like Mr. Clarke and Mr. Williams, where they got injured on the job,” argued Ponting.
“The workers were essentially forced to defend their right to healthcare,” she explained.
A media spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care declined to comment, as the case was still before the Divisional Court.
IAVGO is not the only organization that supports Clarke and Williams. Justicia for Migrant Workers (JMW), a Toronto-based volunteer collective that advocates social protections for all migrant workers regardless of their immigration status, also intervened to help the two men stay in Ontario for medical treatment.
“The Ontario government claims to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘fair’, yet there is nothing inclusive or fair about this appeal,” activist Chris Ramsaroop was quoted as saying in a JMW press release, dated March 24.
“Migrant workers contribute so much to society and get so little in return. We will continue to stand with migrant workers until their right to healthcare is reaffirmed,” Ramsaroop added.
Ponting added that she does not know what happened to the other six passengers in the vehicle, because they were all repatriated. “Migrant workers, especially, are incredibly disposable,” she said.
According to Ponting, healthcare is a right that should exist beyond the limits of geographical residence. “There’s sort of a moral responsibility to make sure that these workers are given the healthcare that they need,” she pointed out. “Agriculture’s a dangerous job, so certainly being able to provide that healthcare is key, rather than just sending them back home, where healthcare isn’t accessible.
“That essential right to healthcare is something that all people deserve, irrespective of immigration status,” Ponting said.