New Brunswick

Vitalité, province seek to appeal Restigouche hospital class-action certification

The New Brunswick government and Vitalité Health Network are seeking to appeal a judge's decision last month certifying a class action lawsuit alleging decades of mistreatment at the Restigouche Hospital Centre.

Judge ruled last month that case alleging negligence, discrimination at psychiatry centre could proceed

The Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton is New Brunswick's only forensic psychiatric hospital. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The New Brunswick government and Vitalité Health Network are seeking to appeal a judge's decision last month certifying a class-action lawsuit that alleges decades of patient mistreatment at the Restigouche Hospital Centre.

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. It alleges they were subjected to abuse, mistreatment and neglect.

The lawsuit alleges the province and the health authority that operates the hospital were negligent and breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by discriminating against people with mental disabilities.

An Oct. 1 decision by Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare certified the case. 

Certification is a procedural step for class-action cases. A judge considers whether there is a cause of action, an identifiable class of affected people, common issues to be considered, among other factors.

Hearing next week

DeWare said she found enough reason in the 25,000 to 30,000 pages of documents to certify the case.

The province and health authority are now seeking to challenge her decision at the Court of Appeal. A hearing for their motions has been scheduled Oct. 26.

Notices of motion filed with the court allege DeWare erred in several ways in her decision.

They allege DeWare improperly determined a legal test to use in the case and erred in determining the Charter is applicable to management and oversight of the hospital.

The province and Vitalité want the Appeals Court to stay, or pause, the class-action case while an appeal of her ruling is considered.

Toronto Lawyer James Sayce is the lead lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case. (Shelagh Howard Photography)

James Sayce, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they are "disappointed" the province and Vitalité are seeking to overturn DeWare's decision.

"We will continue to litigate this case forcefully so as to provide access to meaningful justice for those who have alleged abhorrent abuses and neglect at the Restigouche Hospital Centre," Sayce said in an emailed statement. 

Vitalité declined to comment.

CBC News has requested comment from a spokesperson for the province's attorney general.

The two named plaintiffs 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.

"There is no question that the vast majority of these potential class members would never have the financial means or the necessary professional assistance to prosecute this claim in the absence of a class proceeding," she wrote.

The case was filed after provincial Ombud Chares Murray issued a report in 2019 saying there was "significant mistreatment" of patients at the hospital. 

DeWare said some of the issues with the facility in the 1950s and '60s were "almost exactly the same" as concerns raised by Murray in 2019, indicating a class-action is the only avenue for change.