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Ontario migrant workers win healthcare extension

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

The Health Services Appeal and Review Board (HSARB) has reaffirmed its decision to allow extended healthcare coverage for Ontario migrant workers in extreme medical cases, following an appeal by the provincial Ministry of Health.

The initial decision, on Aug. 16, resulted from the case of two Jamaican workers, Kenroy Williams and Denville Clarke, who had been seriously injured in a road accident in Aug. 2012. As the two men were working under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), their Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) coverage was originally slated to expire on Dec. 15, at the end of the agricultural season. The provincial government challenged the decision, but HSARB ruled in favour of the workers again on Oct. 4.

“The previous decision is supported by the evidence that was before the panel, and the panel addressed the legal issues raised by the respondent,” stated HSARB in its ruling. “This panel is not persuaded that the previous decision should be varied.”

Nine Jamaican migrant workers, including Williams and Clarke, were riding in their employer’s van on Aug. 9, 2012 when an oncoming car caused the van driver to swerve and lose control, sending the van rolling. One passenger was killed, and several others were injured.

According to a press release from  Justicia for Migrant Workers — a Toronto political collective that intervened to assist Williams and Clarke — the employer tried to have the pair sent back to Jamaica before they could receive sufficient treatment for their injuries.

“They needed to stay in Ontario, in order to assist in their recovery,” explained Maryth Yachnin, a staff lawyer with the Toronto-based Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario’s (IAVGO) community legal clinic, who had represented Williams and Clarke. “There wasn’t adequate medical treatment available in Jamaica, and getting them to stay here was quite a victory for them.”

The provincial government appealed the HSARB’s initial decision, arguing that the two men didn’t meet the requirements for extended OHIP coverage because they didn’t have work permits. But the board upheld its previous decision.

“The government had some broader policy concerns,” said Yachnin. “Where the board and the government differed was the idea that this was about immigration status. The government did make some broader arguments about how this would extend coverage to visitors generally in Canada.

“I don’t think those arguments are valid, because the decision really wasn’t about their immigration status in Canada. It wasn’t about other people. It was a very discreet decision about people in this particular program.”

A source with the Ontario Ministry of Health said that the government had no comment on the ruling.

According to Yachnin, Williams and Clarke did get some health coverage from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. But they found it difficult to get treatment in Ontario without OHIP help.

“Doctors don’t even want to see you if you don’t have a health card,” she said. “It’s really a challenge. There are a lot of barriers that are in place when you don’t have coverage, and both workers had things that were not related exactly to the accident, so they needed healthcare coverage for that too.

“The board recognized that essentially, the intention of the law was to cover all the people who are here in Canada on this program, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program,” Yachnin said.