New Brunswick

Francophones relieved court reaffirmed 'equal rights' to emergency services

Members of New Brunswick's francophone community were relieved this week when a judge quashed a 2018 ruling that would relax bilingual hiring requirements for paramedics.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice ruled against easing bilingual hiring requirements for paramedics

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Denise LeBlanc quashed a 2018 ruling by labour arbitrator John McEvoy that suggested the province relax bilingual hiring requirements at Ambulance New Brunswick. (Catherine Allard/Radio-Canada)

Members of New Brunswick's francophone community were relieved this week when a judge quashed a 2018 ruling that would relax bilingual hiring requirements for paramedics.

"It kind of reaffirms the fact that in New Brunswick, we are in a bilingual province," Éric Dow of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick said Thursday.

"That means that the francophone and Acadian population has certain inalienable rights when it comes to health care, to education and especially to access to certain services."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Denise LeBlanc ruled that Ambulance New Brunswick and the provincial government can't relax the bilingual hiring requirements for paramedics, since it would violate the Official Languages Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The decision quashes a 2018 ruling by labour arbitrator John McEvoy.

McEvoy found ANB's practice of not filling permanent, full-time positions with unilingual paramedics violated the union contract because it gave preference to bilingual candidates with less seniority.

McEvoy suggested the province forgo hiring bilingual paramedics in areas of the province where there is less demand for second-language service. He suggested crews use a "language line" that would let a patient talk to a bilingual staffer over a radio system.

First languages at the forefront

In emergency situations, Dow said, it's important to have at least one bilingual paramedic who can understand what francophone patients are trying to say.

"When it comes to emergency situations, a lot of times it's our first language that really comes to the forefront, even if you have certain abilities in your second language be it French or English," he said.

"In those kinds of emergency situations, sometimes it's really hard to make yourself understood in your second language."

The province had already abandoned the idea of relaxing the bilingual requirement, and Premier Blaine Higgs said Thursday that he accepted the court ruling.

But People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin called the ruling "unfortunate" and said if he were the premier, he would implement McEvoy's recommendations regardless. 

French should be treated as 'equal citizens'

Dow called Austin's comments "disheartening" and said they were only serving "short-term political gains."

He said the francophones should be treated as equal citizens and receive equal services.

Some people have a hard time accepting the consequences of official bilingualism, Dow said, who feels a dialogue on the importance of this principle is worth having.

"What would be the consequences of scaling back these rights that the francophone minority has fought for through the years?" he said. "I think it would have very far-reaching, social consequences."

Dow also said it's important to recognize different languages and cultures in New Brunswick, including French, Wolastoqey, Miꞌkmaq and English.

"I don't think admitting that makes us any weaker, I think it only serves to make us stronger as a province," he said.

"When it comes to language being able to access certain services of equal quality, is something that everybody can get behind."

With files from Information Morning Moncton, Jacques Poitras

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