The B.C. government has dismissed calls for further scrutiny of the contentious Bill 36 despite growing political opposition and a groundswell of petition signatures to recall the bill. Critics say the bill—the Health Professions and Occupations Act—gives the health minister sweeping powers previously wielded by regulatory colleges.
“With Bill 36, doctors that make recommendations outside government guidelines may be charged with misinformation. If found to be at fault, they could lose their licence, be fined, or go to jail,” Dr. York Hsiang, a vascular surgeon in Vancouver, told The Epoch Times.
Though the act received royal assent last November, it is not yet in force. The Health Professions Act currently remains in place governing health professionals and regulatory colleges.
Once regulations are in place under the new act, college boards that regulate the health professions will be entirely government-appointed, a departure from the current process where half the board members are elected by members of the profession.
In a March 9 BC Liberals news release, Official Opposition House Leader Todd Stone said he was frustrated to see the NDP government shut down the chance to give the bill further scrutiny despite “significant concerns of doctors, nurses, dentists, physiotherapists, and thousands of other health-care professionals.”
“Every day our BC Liberal Caucus hears from countless health care professionals who are deeply concerned and increasingly anxious about Bill 36,” Stone said.
The Epoch Times contacted the B.C. Ministry of Health for comment but didn’t hear back by press time.
Since Bill 36 became law, the B.C. government has continued to draw criticism from citizens and health-care professionals who say they weren’t properly consulted and that the new act will lead to political interference.
Dr. Stephen Michulak, a dentist practising north of Victoria, said many recommendations were not incorporated after he participated in consultations. “We thought as responsible, law-abiding regulated health-care professionals that we could depend on a process that was good for the public and for health professionals,” he said in an interview.
Hsiang, a member of the Canadian Society for Science and Ethics in Medicine, an advocacy group of over 40 physicians opposed to provincial health officer mandates for health-care workers, says the government is “taking this as an opportunity to control professionals.”
He is concerned the bill will have a ripple effect of unintended consequences amid today’s health-care crisis, with severe staffing shortages across B.C. causing emergency room closures.
“Some doctors and health-care workers will leave, you will get poorer care, and patients will start to not trust doctors because they will feel they are constrained and it will lead to a deterioration of the doctor-patient relationship. And you will have difficulty attracting health-care workers to B.C.,” Hsiang said.
“The remaining health-care workers may become fewer and fewer as a result of burnout.”
The BC Liberals have urged the NDP to refer Bill 36 to the Select Standing Committee on Health and provide MLAs the opportunity to hear directly from health professionals and review the hundreds of pages left unexamined when government forced closure on the bill.
Conservative MLA John Rustad has submitted petitions to the legislature signed by British Columbians opposed to Bill 36. Signatures now number over 15,000.
Rustad said in an email he believes COVID mandates can be extended to all health-care workers covered under Bill 36, which include chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists, if the mandates are not lifted by the time the law comes into effect. He’s also concerned it will deepen B.C.’s health-care crisis and potentially drive more health-care professionals out of the province.
“My understanding is they are moving full steam ahead with the creation of regulations with a goal of having Bill 36 implemented by spring 2024,” said Rustad.
“It is not too late for the people of BC to push back on this NDP government and demand them to undertake a full engagement of health-care providers before moving this bill any further. If consensus can’t be achieved, the government needs to scrap Bill 36 and rewrite a bill based on the recommendations of the health professionals it is designed to govern.”
‘Tighter Government Control’
The B.C. Green party also accused the government of forcing the bill’s closure before it was properly scrutinized.
“The government’s actions to limit debate and force a bill through the legislature in a flagrant rejection of promises previously made for open and reasonable debate serve no purpose other than to upend self-regulatory professions and subject them to tighter government control,” said deputy leader Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi in a Feb. 21 news release.
A B.C. government webpage attempts to address contentious clauses such as how governance will be handled. It also states the new legislation will not limit “critical or free speech” but that it does have provisions requiring regulatory colleges to take action against health professionals “who are spreading misinformation that could bring harm to patients or the public.”
After a Canada-wide crackdown on doctors who presented alternative viewpoints on how to best help their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, some doctors are concerned significant penalties could be imposed on health-care professionals who don’t conform to the sanctioned government narrative.
Dr. Charles Hoffe of Lytton, B.C., is facing a disciplinary hearing with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. (CPSBC) for allegedly providing “misleading, incorrect or inflammatory” information about COVID-19 vaccinations, treatments, and public measures, such as his views about natural immunity obtained from infection and efforts to treat his vaccine-injured patients. Hoffe denies the allegations. His licence remains active, according to the CPSBC website.
Alan Brough, executive director of the Canada Health Alliance (CHA), a not-for-profit collaboration of health-care professionals, told The Epoch Times many of his members are worried Bill 36 will be the end of their careers.
“I know members of the CHA who are seriously thinking of relocating to other provinces,” said Brough, who also believes Bill 36 is being delivered as a template for all of Canada.
“Health practitioners fear they will be punished for speaking out if they don’t agree with future government policies and mandates. Bill 36 gives the government jurisdiction to dictate what is deemed misinformation and it can be used to silence any critique of the government.”
Brough, who grew up in Zimbabwe and also lived in China, describes this as “a draconian approach we see in communist countries or dictatorships.”
“These types of tactics are well-documented,” he said. “It follows a fairly predictable playbook if you study history. We are essentially doing the same thing here.”
Denman Island-based Dr. Stephen Malthouse, who had his medical licence suspended in March 2022 for providing patients with mask and vaccine exemptions that allegedly contained “false statements,” among other charges, said one million B.C. residents are without a family doctor and physicians are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout.
“Some will leave the province. Some will be too stressed out to work. They can’t even open emergencies in some cases because of the shortages,” he told The Epoch Times.
For Malthouse, there is a potential silver lining. “It’s not good that people can’t find a GP, but people will begin to see that there are other ways to treat chronic diseases, so they will look for an alternative which might serve them better in the long run.”
He said change is more likely to come from a grassroots movement. “The process we are seeing now is the fire that causes you to run out of a house.” He added, “We shouldn’t rely on political parties to get us out of this mess.”
Citizens concerned about Bill 36 initiated a campaign to unseat Premier David Eby from his Vancouver riding and force a byelection using a recall petition. One of the organizers, Salvatore Vetro, said he wasn’t disappointed despite having secured only 20 percent of the signatures needed to take the recall to the next level.
“We put out over 80,000 pieces of literature to educate people,” said Vetro in an interview. “A lot of people didn’t know about Bill 36 and how it would affect them. We had to educate so many people.”
Going forward, Vetro points to the success of the Dutch farmers’ protest party and their recent win in key elections in the Netherlands. “Our plan is to take back the governance one constituency at a time,” he said. “We will repeal Bill 36.”