“TREATED LIKE FOREIGN CRIMINALS”, INDO-CANADIAN MOTHER AND SON SUE MEDICARE INSURANCE BOARD FOR RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
Montreal, January 8, 2016 — An Indo-Canadian engineer and his retired mother are claiming $70,000 from the Quebec Medicare Insurance Board for racial discrimination and profiling, in a civil rights lawsuit that will proceed before Quebec Superior Court this year.
In September 2010, the two Montreal residents were caught in a legal nightmare when both received a subpoena from the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (“RAMQ”), ordering them to submit to an investigation and produce extensive personal, financial, tax, employment, housing, educational and citizenship documents. Among the documents demanded in the subpoena were: Proofs of permanent residency, passports, and citizenship and/or permanent resident cards.
The mother, Mrs. Reeta Majumdar, has been a naturalized Canadian citizen since 1980 while the son, Mr. Rahul Majumdar, was born in Ontario (N.B. Mrs. Majumdar‘s Montreal-born daughter was also subpoenaed by RAMQ, but was let off after telephone and/or e-mail communication, as she had moved to New York in early 2010).
It was only during separate, face-to-face interviews with a RAMQ investigator later that September when they were told why that they were being investigated. Mrs. Majumdar’s name (and, presumably, Mr. Majumdar’s name as well) appeared on the list of an immigration consultant who had been arrested in the late 2000s for scheming to defraud RAMQ with thousands of people originally from the Middle-East (Lebanon).
The Majumdars were also told in the September 2010 interviews that their names were randomly picked from the list seized in the immigration consultant’s office. They were shocked to learn that their names were on said list, since neither had dealt with any immigration consultants at any time. In March 2011, six months after receiving the subpoenas, both received letters from RAMQ stating that they were fully eligible for Medicare. However, the letters also stated that they would still be subject to “periodic checking” in the future in spite of this clearance.
Feeling that they had been victims of discrimination and that RAMQ had violated their privacy rights, the Majumdars sought help from the Quebec Ombudsman (“Protecteur du Citoyen”) in October and November of 2010, but the Ombudsman failed to see any wrongdoing in RAMQ’s conduct.
Subsequently, they mandated CRARR to file a complaint in January 2011 on their behalf with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission (“the Commission”) for racial discrimination and violation of their equality and dignity rights, as well as their privacy rights as guaranteed by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms).
Finally, in August 2013, the Commission interviewed both Majumdars as well as RAMQ representatives and produced an investigative report (“Exposé factuel”) in November of that year.
It was only after reading this report that Mr. Majumdar and his mother learned, among other things, that it was only the mother’s name and that of her late husband (deceased in 1995) that were on the consultant’s list. Apparently, RAMQ’s investigative unit had decided as part of its procedures to arbitrarily extend its investigation to all the members of the family (“child, spouse, parent”). This is why both Mr. Majumdar and his sister were compelled to appear before RAMQ.
Also, contrary to what the RAMQ investigator had told both Majumdars during the 2010 in-person meetings, RAMQ informed the Commission that the names of people to be investigated by the RAMQ were not picked at random. Rather, everyone on their list was investigated, including those with a “Québécois-sounding” name (“noms à consonance québécoise”). However, the Commission did not clarify the nature of said list, say how many people were on that list, or how Mrs. Majumdar’s late husband’s name got on it.
The new information revealed by the Commission’s investigation led CRARR to question RAMQ’s investigative procedures, particularly elements of discrimination based on civil status or family ties, a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Charter.
Questions were also raised regarding the need to examine the racial or ethnic background of people with names other than those “à consonance québécoise” who were actually investigated (despite the fact that the RAMQ initially told the Majumdars that they were randomly selected and then indicated to the Commission that it investigated “everyone” on the list), since it is highly unlikely that a “Jean Tremblay” would be required to show proof of Canadian citizenship or a permanent resident card, as was required from the Majumdars.
The Commission completely ignored these critical issues in its decision. Furthermore, the Commission never addressed the question of why, despite being born in Ontario and having lived nearly all his life in Montreal (continuously since July 1970 except for a short work period in Ontario), Mr. Majumdar was ordered by the RAMQ to provide proof of his permanent residency.
The Commission dismissed the Majumdars’ complaint in February 2014. Still, feeling that the decision was based on an incomplete investigation that skirted critical questions, the Majumdars decided to sue in regular court.
“There are, strangely, many unanswered questions in the Commission’s investigation. It completely avoided our questions related to discrimination based on civil or family status, privacy violations and important issues related to racial and ethnic profiling in our case, and bizarrely concluded that the RAMQ did not discriminate against us”, said a perplexed Mr. Majumdar.
“Both of us were treated by RAMQ like foreign criminals in our own country, involved in some immigrant fraud scheme,” noted Mr. Majumdar. “As an innocent native-born Canadian, this is extremely offensive to me, by far the most egregious attack on my citizenship ever.”
“Even after being cleared in 2011, RAMQ still has us on its list for future ‘periodic checking’, which effectively makes my son and me, permanent Medicare fraud suspects. We are shocked and angry that the Commission saw nothing wrong with that,” added Mrs. Majumdar.
“What’s important in this case is the dimension of family status discrimination coupled with racial and ethnic discrimination,” noted CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi. “The fact that RAMQ investigated everyone in the family simply because the parents’ names appear on a Medicare fraud list is disturbing indeed. We are simply baffled that the Commission saw nothing wrong with that.”
The Majumdars are claiming $35,000 each in moral and punitive damages from the RAMQ in their lawsuit before Quebec Superior Court. They are also asking that RAMQ cease all discrimination based on race, ethnicity and civil or family status.