New Brunswick

Ambulance contract details can stay secret, judge rules

A judge has ruled details of the Ambulance New Brunswick contract can remain a secret to the people footing the costs.

Ambulance New Brunswick wins bid to keep contract details from taxpayers

Charles LeBlond, a lawyer representing Medavie Health Services New Brunswick Inc., says portions of the company's contract with the provincial government to operate Ambulance New Brunswick should be censored to protect trade secrets. (Shane Magee/CBC)

judge has ruled no further details of the provincial government's contract with a private firm to run Ambulance New Brunswick need to be released to the public.

In a 35-page decision Tuesday afternoon, Court of Queen's Bench Justice George Rideout ruled in favour of Medavie Health Services New Brunswick Inc., which sought to block release of portions of its contract with the Department of Health.

The judge was asked to rule on whether the province could release an unredacted version of its contract with Medavie for the ambulance service, which the company has run since 2007. The contract was renewed in 2017 for another 10 years.

CBC News and the newspaper publisher Brunswick News Inc. had separately sought copies of the contract through right-to-information requests.

The province indicated it would release the whole contract for the purposes of transparency with taxpayers, which Medavie opposed.

While I may think it would be helpful to the public, I cannot order publication if it is prohibited under the Act or case law.- George Rideout, Court of Queen's Bench justice

The company went to court to block release of details related to staffing numbers, salary figures and other financial information. 

In an hour-long hearing in Moncton last Friday, lawyers for Medavie and the province outlined their positions. 

Charles LeBlond, a lawyer for Medavie, called the information the company's "secret sauce." 

Competitors could use the information to outbid Medavie in New Brunswick and other jurisdictions, he said.

Richard Williams, representing the province, said the government sought to release the full contract in the interest of transparency because of public interest in how the ambulance system operates. 

Portions of the contract between Medavie Health Services New Brunswick Inc. and the provincial government for operation of Ambulance New Brunswick were redacted. The province sought to release the contract without any redactions, which Medavie opposed.

Ambulance New Brunswick, which had a budget of $97.3 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year, has faced public pressure over the past year.

There have been stories by the Telegraph-Journal newspaper and CBC News about out-of-service ambulances, and paramedics have held rallies calling attention to staffing issues. 

While Medavie spent about 40 minutes outlining its position at the hearing, the province summarized its case in under 10, and Rideout suggested in his ruling that the province didn't give him much to work with. ​

New Brunswick's Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act includes provisions that set out trade secrets and information provided in confidence can be withheld from the public.

Sees facts on Medavie's side

"As I understand this matter, this Court is to interpret the law relating to Freedom of Information and apply the law to the facts," Rideout wrote.

"While I may think it would be helpful to the public, I cannot order publication if it is prohibited under the Act or case law."

In the decision that largely quotes previous case law and briefs filed in support of Medavie and the province, Rideout said Medavie's evidence is "uncontradicted."

The province, Rideout said, provided evidence that only set out known facts, then said it feels the full uncensored contract should be released.

"There are no facts to support that position," Rideout said.

The decision cannot be appealed.

LeBlond said he couldn't comment Tuesday because he had yet to read the decision. The province did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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