New Brunswick

Appeal court won't hear challenge of Restigouche Hospital class action certification

New Brunswick's Court of Appeal won't hear a challenge of a judge's decision to allow a major class action lawsuit alleging decades of negligence and mistreatment at the Restigouche Hospital Centre to proceed.

New Brunswick government, Vitalité Health Network sought to challenge lower court decision

The Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton is New Brunswick's only forensic psychiatric hospital. (Radio Canada)

New Brunswick's Court of Appeal won't hear a challenge of a judge's decision allowing a class action lawsuit alleging decades of negligence and mistreatment at the Restigouche Hospital Centre to proceed.

The lawsuit was filed in 2019 on behalf of all patients who have resided or been treated at the 140-bed forensic psychiatry centre in Campbellton since 1954. 

The lawsuit alleges the province and Vitalité Health Network, which operates the hospital, were negligent and breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by discriminating against people with mental disabilities.

Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare certified the class action in a ruling last month.

Decision on certification challenged

Certification is a procedural step in class action cases to decide whether there is a cause of action, an identifiable class of affected people and common issues to be considered, among other factors.

The provincial government and Vitalité sought leave to appeal that ruling, arguing DeWare erred in her decision. They allege DeWare improperly determined a legal test to use in the case and in determining the Charter is applicable to management and oversight of the hospital.

The province and Vitalité wanted the appeal court to stay, or pause, the class-action case while an appeal of her ruling was considered. The court first had to decide whether it would hear that appeal.

In a 10-page decision released Thursday, Justice Raymond French denied leave to appeal. French wrote DeWare was "alive" to issues the province and Vitalité sought to challenge. 

It's a very serious class action, a very serious allegation that we think need to be addressed as quickly as possible.- James Sayce

James Sayce, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the decision means there was nothing wrong with DeWare's certification decision.

"We're pleased because any time you get into appeals of certification and other types of litigation steps, there is always delay," Sayce said in an interview Thursday.

He said an appeal likely could have added a year or so to the process. 

"We're very happy that we'll be able to move forward with the case, provide notice to class members, engage in documentary and oral discovery and really get to the bottom of the merits of this class action. It's a very serious class action — a very serious allegation — that we think need to be addressed as quickly as possible."

The allegations in the lawsuit haven't been proven.

The health network and province didn't immediately respond to requests for comment about the appeal court ruling. 

The province and health authority were ordered to each pay the plaintiffs $1,000.

A hearing in the case is scheduled to take place in Moncton's Court of Queen's Bench on Friday. That hearing will be to discuss costs related to the case and next steps, Sayce said.

The two named plaintiffs in the case are Darrell Tidd and Reid Smith, litigants on behalf of their sons Devan Tidd and Aaron Smith, respectively, who are or were patients at the hospital.

Tidd alleges his son, who has autism, was over-medicated and complained of assault at the hands of other residents.

Smith alleges his son, who has autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder, was also over-medicated at the centre.

DeWare ruled a class-action would be the right way for a vulnerable person such as those with mental illnesses to seek justice.

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