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Monica Doumit: Dark clouds from Canada to Canberra

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Calvary Hospital, Canberra: Photo: Wikimedia

Calvary Health Care’s legal challenge to the ACT Government’s takeover is a positive step forward.

Very little has been revealed of the legal strategy at this point: the current aim seems only to hit the “pause” button on the government’s seizure of the land while a more fulsome case can be mounted.

Even so, every incremental step is of great value at a time when litigation appears to be the only way to proceed.

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It would have been preferable if a political solution could have been found, but the ACT Labor-Greens coalition has been in power for more than two decades.

While the opposition is putting up a fight, it is an impossible task when the government is so entrenched.

The federal government has been no help. Platitudes from the prime minister affirming the value of Catholic institutions and rejecting the precedent-setting value of this move are nice, but ineffectual against those so committed to change.

When diplomacy at an institutional and political level cannot achieve a reasonable outcome, litigation is the next step.

If the more substantive case gets a hearing, the government will not only have to justify its actions to a semi-interested electorate and largely biased media, but to the courts.

They will have to produce emails, memos and other documents that might reveal more of the intention behind this atrocious move.

How this plays out might stop the ACT Government. It might not. But taking them to task could at least act as a deterrent to other jurisdictions that might be considering adopting a similar strategy.

While several commentators have surmised that the Calvary Hospital scandal is the first of its kind in the world and others suggest it has no precedent-setting value, at least one example suggests it is not an isolated case.

The brazen takeover of the land and assets, staff and operations of Calvary is certainly without precedent in Australia, but there was a similar—albeit not as egregious—takeover in one of Canada’s left-leaning provinces two years ago.

The brazen takeover of the operations of Calvary is certainly without precedent in Australia, but there was a similar takeover in Canada two years ago. Photo: Supplied
The brazen takeover of the operations of Calvary is certainly without precedent in Australia, but there was a similar takeover in Canada two years ago. Photo: Supplied

The Irene Thomas Hospice in Canada’s British Columbia is a 10-bed facility that was previously run by the Delta Hospice Society, a private organisation established to offer palliative care to its small community of residents.

It was not a faith-based institution, but the Delta Hospice Society nonetheless objected to the provision of euthanasia on the basis that it did not accord with good palliative care.

The hospice was threatened in 2020 with the withdrawal of its $1.5 million annual government funding if it refused to provide euthanasia on site. This equated to about half the facility’s overall funding.

The Delta Hospice Society objected, pointing out that there was a large facility that offered euthanasia just 300 metres away, so it was not as if residents were being denied ‘choice’ at the end of life if a small hospice with a capacity of 10 was permitted to stay true to its values.

When the hospice stood its ground, the Fraser Health Authority, the government-run provider, refused to renew its lease on the property and in 2021 moved its own operators in.

Fraser Health has been running Irene Thomas for just over two years now.

At the time of the takeover, the Delta Hospice Society said, “Fraser Health has maneuvered the Society, without cause and against its will, to seize much of the Society’s assets and its ability to serve the community without any dialogue.”

“These actions by Fraser Health are punitive and unjust. While Fraser Health claims it is acting in the best interest of patient care, this is highly questionable.”

Sound familiar? The Fraser Health Authority waited until the hospice’s lease had expired instead of tearing it up like the ACT Government is trying to do to Calvary, but every time these tactics are imported into other jurisdictions, the instigators become more brazen.

That’s why the Calvary fight is so important. While they may not be aware of it, Calvary Health Care are taking on this fight not only for themselves but for other institutions here and abroad, which might find themselves on the wrong side of a contract recission if they do not fall in line with the policies of the government of the day.

By putting up a fight, they are saying that this type of overreach will not be tolerated anywhere. God speed to them.

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