New Brunswick

Francophone lobby group questions delays in lawsuit over Vitalité's independence

Égalité Santé en français began a lawsuit in 2017, aiming to expand community control for the health authority. The legal challenge argues the province is infringing on charter rights by not providing francophones “full and complete” control over Vitalité.

Égalité Santé en français says delays could permit more ‘detrimental’ changes in N.B. health care

Dr. Hubert Dupuis, president of the francophone lobby group Égalité Santé en français, speaks Wednesday at a news conference in Dieppe. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The Égalité Santé en français is continuing to try to force the New Brunswick government to give the Vitalité Health Network increased independence from government.

The francophone lobby group began a lawsuit in 2017, aiming to expand community control for the health authority. The legal challenge argues the province is infringing on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by not providing francophones "full and complete" control over Vitalité.

An examination for discovery meeting was to be held May 17 and 18, but Dr. Hubert Dupuis, the group's president, said he was informed last week that the province decided to switch to an external legal firm, pushing back proceedings.

"It seems like a strange tactic to delay the response to the questions we've raised, but especially to give the government time to implement other changes to the health care system to the detriment of the francophone and Acadian community," he said in French.

Equality of services

At a Wednesday news conference at Dieppe's arts and culture centre, members and supporters gathered to reiterate support for the lawsuit.

Égalité Santé en français also criticized the centralization of health-care decisions, the new health-care plan and an inequality of services and resources between Horizon and Vitalité.

It raised concerns that further centralization of decision-making toward a "bilingual" model would result in reduced quality of French-language services.

Dupuis said the delays appear to show the province is not prepared to defend its position.

"We remind you that we filed our notice of lawsuit on June 17, 2017. Did they just wake up?" he said at the news conference.

The Vitalité Health Network is one of two health authorities in the province created by legislation. It has a board of directors, with some members appointed and others elected.

The francophone lobby group Égalité Santé en français held a news conference about its lawsuit against the province. It is pushing for greater control over the Vitalité Health Network. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

While the administration operates in French, the organization is required to offer services to the public in both official languages.

The network's CEO is currently appointed by the province.

Égalité Santé en français is asking for that position and the board to be elected by members of the community instead. It also wants the province to ensure services offered at Vitalité are equal to those at Horizon.

The lawsuit cites Article 16.1 of the charter, which guarantees equality between French-speaking and English-speaking residents of New Brunswick. It also refers to Law 88, which recognizes the equality of both linguistic communities.

It asks for the court to recognize francophone rights to "distinct" health institutions.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the province does not comment on pending litigation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC News based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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