Committee files lawsuit over elimination of French health authority

The Department of Health's restructuring plan is now the centre of a lawsuit in which a local group is demanding the province reinstate a health authority that is legally francophone.

The Department of Health's restructuring plan is now the centre of a lawsuit in which a local group is demanding the province reinstate a health authority that is legally francophone.

The Committee for Equality of Health in French filed their suit against the provincial government on Wednesday at the Court of Queen's Bench in Moncton.

Health Minister Michael Murphy's plan, released in March, merged the eight regional health authorities to two. The committee is alleging that amalgamation has taken away the only health authority that was working legally in French.

The organization recruited Michel Bastarache, a retired Supreme Court of Canada judge and expert in linguistic cases, to assist in the case along with Michel Doucet, law professor at the Université de Moncton.

Doucet said the lawsuit doesn't aim to impose duality in health care, which would mean separate health systems based on language. Instead, the objective is to restore a health authority that is clearly and legally francophone.

Doucet said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be one of the major arguments put forward to the court.

"The constitution states that in New Brunswick, both linguistic communities are equal and both linguistic communities have a right to institutions," he said.

A spokeswoman for Murphy said the minister will not comment on the lawsuit. The health authority mergers were intended to save costs by reducing the duplication of services.

Prior to the changeover on Sept. 1, the Beauséjour Regional Health Authority, located in Moncton, was the only one in New Brunswick that designated itself francophone and made French the working language in its hospitals.

The Beauséjour RHA was merged with other authorities, including some that work in French and English.

According to the committee, francophones, at least in southeastern New Brunswick, are no longer served by a francophone health authority. Dr. Hubert Dupuis, the president of the committee, said the fact that three anglophones sit on the board of 17 members helps prove his point.

"That underscores why they can't say it's an Acadian regional authority. So it confirms that that authority isn't Acadian, isn't francophone. So that doesn't meet our demands," he said in French.