Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner

Hepner’s health idea could be in play

B.C. Ministry of Health has collected $28.2 million from people found responsible for injury

Recovering health care costs from criminals who put others in hospital is already happening, The Leader has learned.

On Monday, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said that she liked to see the province’s civil forfeiture legislation changed to allow B.C. to recover health care costs from people who’ve been shot.

Hepner is frustrated with the lack of cooperation, and sometimes outright mocking of police, by victims in the recent rash of shootings in Surrey and North Delta.

Since March, more than 30 incidents of gun violence have occurred in the streets, with many tied to an ongoing drug turf battle over dial-a-dope operations.

And those being hurt are not cooperating with police.

One shooting victim told police “the bullets fell from the sky,” while another said “I will take care of it myself.”

Hepner wants to recover health care costs from uncooperative victims.

Suzanne Anton, B.C.’s attorney general and minister of justice, said she understands Hepner’s frustration.

But Anton also said in the scenario described by Hepner, the Civil Forfeiture Act would not apply.

Civil forfeiture involves taking action against property, not people, when that property has been determined to be the proceeds of crime.

However, Hepner’s plan has some legs at the B.C. Ministry of Health, where officials say it would be  possible under the Health Care Cost Recovery Act (HCCRA).

Since 2009, when the HCCRA was enacted, the government has collected $28.2 million from criminals who ring up hefty health care costs.

For the cost recovery to take place, the person who committed the crime must be identified and criminally convicted.

The health ministry typically charges the perpetrators who put a person in hospital, but it could conceivably be argued someone’s risky lifestyle choices contributed to their injuries.

The ministry indicated that in order for the cost recovery to work, the defendant needs to have assets, or more often private insurance, which can sometimes prove challenging.

Civil action is also a possibility, but it can prove costly, and there’s no guarantee the money will be returned to the ministry.

Hepner said Wednesday her plan would only be used if the victims had gone through the court system and were found guilty of a crime that landed them in the hospital.

The rationale behind the idea, she said, is to prod parents of uncooperative patients who are minors to name suspected shooters in order to avoid medical bills.

She acknowledged the plan won’t fix all woes in the war against drug dealers with weapons, but it may just prompt some parents into convincing youth to assist police.

Hepner wasn’t aware of the HCCRA, but said it sounds like it may just need some tweaking to be effective in Surrey’s case.

She said she will be approaching the ministry of health shortly to recommend possible changes.