Francophone lobby group sues province over Vitalité Health's independence
Citing Charter of Rights, Égalité Santé en français argues for 'full and complete' control of health network
The francophone lobby group Égalité Santé en français is suing the province to force it to give the Vitalité Health Network more independence from the government.
The lawsuit argues that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives francophones the right to have "full and complete" control of "their" health authority.
"This is not a question of being served in our language," said the group's president, Dr. Hubert Dupuis, "but of having control of our francophone health institutions to counter assimilation and to allow the vitality and development of the francophone and Acadian community."
Vitalité runs hospitals and other health facilities in Moncton and in francophone regions in Kent County and in northwest and northeast New Brunswick.
Administration uses French
It's one of two health authorities in the province, created by legislation, and has a board of directors with eight people who are elected and seven who are appointed.
Vitalité's administration operates in French but it's required by the Official Languages Act to serve the public in both French and English.
The lawsuit asks the court to recognize francophone rights to "distinct" health institutions, to require the province to ensure Vitalité offers services equal to those at the Horizon Health Network, to require proper funding for the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre's medical school programs, and to stop what it calls the health minister's and health department's "interference" with Vitalité's management.
Against move to privatize
Vitalité's board has come out against a Liberal government plan to privatize the management of food and cleaning services in the province's hospitals. The board says it can run those services at the same cost or lower.
Dupuis says Égalité Santé supports Vitalité on that issue.
The group says it wants the law on regional health authorities amended to give Vitalité "real autonomy" from the provincial government.
In 2012, under pressure from Égalité Santé en français, the previous Progressive Conservative government committed $9 million over five years for a "catch-up" plan to help Vitalité match some of the services offered in Horizon Health hospitals.
Not caught up
But last year Dupuis said the money wasn't being spent property to ensure that catch-up.
The lawsuit is based on Section 16.1 of the charter, which guarantees the two language communities in New Brunswick their own distinct educational and cultural institutions.
Whether Section 16.1 applies to health-care facilities has never been resolved by the courts.
The Department of Health and Vitalité's CEO Gilles Lanteigne both say they won't comment on the lawsuit because it's heading to court.