Photo credit: Liam Maloney
You fled a violent home when
you were a teenager. How did you go from runaway to
MD? Actually I wanted to be a pilot at first, but
I wasn't good enough in math. Then I wanted to go into
architecture, but everyone told me I wouldn't find a
job. My eldest brother was in medical school and very
enthusiastic about it, so I copied him. But I had to
work at the same time in order to earn money for school.
It was a hard time.
When you got to Montreal, you
kicked off your medical career doing house calls. I
hear you had an unusual ride...? Yes, the police
gave me a permit to use my own car a Toyota Camry
as an ambulance, with the red light and the siren
and everything. But the government fined me for charging
patients directly, so I had no choice but to dismantle
the team I had assembled.
You went on a four week hunger
strike to protest restrictions on private healthcare.
What's the first thing you ate when it was over?
Orange juice and tomatoes I think.
You've publicly compared yourself
to Mahatma Gandhi. Aside from a willingness to starve,
what do the two of you have in common? When Gandhi
was practising law in South Africa, he noticed the infringement
on human rights against blacks. He felt that wasn't
fair and he wanted to defend them. Everyone thought
he was crazy but he continued his fight alone. I wanted
to fight for the human rights of my patients and, like
Gandhi, everybody thought I was crazy and that I could
never prevail over the government.
How'd you convince your father-in-law
to lend you half a million dollars for your crusade?
My wife asked him for me. I'm not fluent in Japanese.
How many lawyers refused to
take on your case before you decided to represent yourself?
Actually, I turned them down! They wanted huge amounts
of money from me and all along they were against my
interpretation of the constitution. I just wanted to
defend the rights of my patients and I didn't want anyone
to get in my way, particularly a lawyer. So I did it
myself. In the end, my argument prevailed against the
most eminent constitutional expert in this country.
You're also a self-taught painter.
Who's your favourite artist? Ouf, there are so many!
If I had to pick one, I guess I'd say Renoir. He was
a very warm person and a very optimistic man.
What kind of relationship do
you and your co-plaintiff George Zeliotis have now?
We don't see each other anymore. He wasn't my patient
I saw an article in the Montreal Gazette about
him so I called him up. I wanted to help the entire
Canadian community, not one particular individual.
What do you think of Bill 33,
Quebec's response to the Supreme Court verdict?
The government is facing a lot of political constraint,
which I understand. They want to advance gradually.
I had hoped that it would be more towards the private
sector but it's a step in the right direction.
Any plans to run for political
office? Not at all.
The only Canadian doctor who
gets more press coverage than you is Dr Brian Day. Are
you friends or foes? Oh, we're friends. I've been
pushing him to run and I'm very happy about his election
to the CMA.
If you could say one thing to
Tommy Douglas what would it be? I'd tell him that
we have a lot in common. He never intended to establish
a state monopoly.
Are you still practising medicine?
Yes, I'm working at a walk-in clinic in Montreal.
What's next? I've just decided
I'm going to open some private clinics here and
all over the country. I feel that my duty is to go into
business and apply the judgment for the benefit of Canadian
patients. Hopefully, politicians will be able to learn
from what I will do and introduce changes into their
And finally, poutine or foie
gras? Foie gras, no question. Even if it's bad for
cholesterol, life's too short.