Canada's universal health care system gets bashed routinely by American right-wingers but now it's become a supporting player in a flap over free speech in the U.S. capital.
The issue is a billboard posted at a suburban Washington, D.C. subway station advertising a movie attacking U.S. President Barack Obama's health insurance regime.
The 50-minute documentary Sick and Sicker: Obamacare Canadian Style by Logan Darrow Clements depicts the Canadian system as a cautionary tale for Americans about "what happens when the government becomes your doctor.'
It trots out familiar horror stories about surgery waiting lists and administrative snafus, interviewing Canadian patients and critics of the system.
The film was released in 2010, perhaps as an answer to lefty film-make Michael Moore's 2008 indictment of American health care, Sicko, which lauded Canada's single-payer system, and also coinciding with mid-term elections that year. Obama faces re-election this year.
But it wasn't the movie that triggered demands the poster be removed. It was the ad's kicker line: "Barack Obama wants politicians and bureaucrats to control America's entire medical system. Go to hell Barack."
Clements told the Washington Post he paid $800 for the ad space for mid-February to mid-March at the Metro station in Arlington, Virginia.
"I wanted to call attention to where Obamacare is going take American medicine," the Los Angeles-based producer said. "The point of the ad is to express the degree of outrage. They're going to take a sick system and make it sicker."
James P. Moran, a Democrat congressmen from Virginia, wrote the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority asking that the ad be removed because it is "deeply disrespectful of the President of the United States," and does not meet "minimum standards of decency."
"The families with children and thousands of tourists who take Metro everyday should not be subjected to such garbage," Moran said in a statement on his web site.
"I understand WMATA vets these advertisements before allowing them to go up, but it seems someone wasn't doing their job when this ad was approved."
But transit authority said it "cannot decline ads based on political content," spokesman Dan Stessel told the Post, because they're constitutionally protected free speech.
"WMATA advertising has been ruled by the courts as a public forum protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, and we may not decline ads based on their political content," the authority stated. "WMATA does not endorse the advertising on our system, and ads do not reflect the position of the Authority."
However, transit boss Richard Sarles, in an email to employees, stressed his unhappiness with the ad.
"Like many of you, I am deeply offended by this ad and find it disrespectful to President Obama, and the nation," Sarles wrote, according to The Hill.
"There are very few limits placed on freedom of speech and, unfortunately, the language used in the ad would not be included under those few exceptions."
(Reuters file photo)