Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale


Montreal, August 29, 2011 --- Two Montrealers of Indian origin have been the target of investigation and subsequent ”periodic checking” by the Quebec Health Insurance Board (Régie de l'assurance-maladie du Québec, or RAMQ) for possible fraud simply because their names somehow landed on a list of an immigration consultant involved in a major scheme to defraud medicare.

The two (names withheld), a retired female banking employee and her son, a Canadian-born engineer with extensive security clearance for positions involving sensitive information, were subpoenaed by the Board in late August 2010, requiring them to report to an investigator with personal documents including citizenship papers, leases, income tax reports, and recent credit card bills. No further explanation was provided until they met the investigator for interrogation.

It was only then that they learned that their names were found on a list of the consultant under investigation for medicare fraud. Despite the fact that they never dealt with any immigration lawyer or consultant and their questions to the Board investigator, they were not informed of the consultant's name; nor were they informed how many people were investigated and the ethnic background of these individuals. They were simply told that their names were randomly picked from the list for investigation.

Prior to and during the interrogation, the Régie did not inform the individuals in writing of their constitutional rights or recourses to follow regarding neither the investigation, nor the reasons for being investigated and required to provide private financial, employment, tax and housing records. The subpoena states among other things that a refusal to respond or reply can lead to legal sanctions, including a contempt of court charge.

Both individuals were subject to extensive questioning during separate interviews with the Board investigator.In addition, they were required to summarize their lives in writing and solemnly swear to the summary’s authenticity.

Feeling unfairly targeted, they immediately filed a complaint with the office of the Protecteur du citoyen (Quebec Ombudsman), who closed the file after a brief investigation after concluding that the Board followed proper procedures.

In March 2011, both received a formal notice from the Board, which on the surface cleared their names. However, the same notice states that ”the Régie undertakes periodic checking to ensure that eligibility rules to the Health Insurance Plan are met at all times.“ Thus, for the first time in their lives and after being covered by Quebec medicare without incident since its inception, both mother and son are now subject to ”periodic checking.“

According to Mr. H., ”For over forty years, my mother and I thought we were full-fledged, Canadian citizens. Now, after receiving this subpoena from the RAMQ and being subjected to this treatment (i.e. producing extremely personal records about citizenship, tax filings, bank records, credit card statements, housing), without being told why or informed of our constitutional rights, I'm not so sure anymore.”

“We have been investigated, interrogated and placed under “periodic checking“ for life. To this day, we have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation as to why we became suspects and foreigners in our own country,” says Mr. H. “To this day, we are still extremely disturbed about what RAMQ is doing with our personal, financial and other records. This is Canada, not some closed police state.“

Believing that they have been racially profiled, both individuals mandated CRARR to file a civil rights complaint on their behalf, citing disproportionate violations of their right to privacy, equality, dignity and liberty of the person. CRARR is also asking the Quebec human rights commission, among other things, to examine the Board’s investigation techniques to ensure full respect of citizens’ constitutional and civil rights, and to order it to adopt procedural safeguards to prevent similar massive state intrusion into citizens’ private lives in the future.

It was only through CRARR's research that Ms. and Mr. H., learned about the Board's investigation into a major medicare fraud committed by a sophisticated scam ring in the late 2000s that resulted in 1,450 people, mostly of Middle Eastern origin, being ordered to reimburse medicare fees to the Quebec government.

Mr. H. also questioned the decision of the Quebec Ombudsman's office. “That the Protecteur du Citoyen deemed the Board's investigation to be proper and in compliance with the law says a lot about its credibility and usefulness.”

Added CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi, “We wonder whether Mr. H. and his mother would be subjected to this investigation had their names been Landry or Tremblay, but more importantly, we are deeply concerned by the fact that the state can invade citizens' private lives and violate their constitutional rights in such a disproportionate and unchecked degree, in the name of an administrative investigation.

“Even people placed on Transport Canada's no-fly list are better informed about their rights and recourses than those investigated by the Quebec Health Insurance Board. We look forward to the having the human rights commission shed more light into this case,“ he added.