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December 18th 2014

Language rights in health care

Fredericton, December 18, 2014 – Language rights as they relate to health care are the subject of a new factsheet released today by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick.  

“Access to care in the official language of one’s choice is not just a constitutional right,” said Official Languages Commissioner Katherine d'Entremont. “It is one of the most important factors in the quality of care. In fact, communication is at the heart of the helping relationship between the health professional and the patient.”

Ms. d’Entremont pointed out that, when people are ill, they feel vulnerable and may be reluctant to make use of a service in their language if it is not apparent that it is available. “To prevent such a situation, the Official Languages Act requires staff to make an active offer of service in English and in French,” the Commissioner explained. “Through the active offer of service, patients are not burdened with having to ask for service in their language; staff have the responsibility to offer it.” It should be noted that the official language chosen by the patient must be respected throughout the continuum of care.

The factsheet gives many examples of health organizations that have obligations under the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick. One of them is Ambulance New Brunswick. With that in mind, the Commissioner explained that a language barrier can have serious consequences in an emergency. “In medical emergencies, people often have trouble expressing themselves clearly. When a language barrier is added to the mix, clear communication, which is essential to a patient’s health, is compromised. This in turn compounds feelings of anxiety and panic.’’

The factsheet also specifies that the two health networks, i.e. Horizon and Vitalité, are required to provide all of their services in both official languages. “The fact that each network has its own internal language of operation does not have any bearing on their requirement to provide care to the public in both English and French throughout New Brunswick,” said the Commissioner.

This is the second in a series of factsheets on linguistic rights produced by the Office of the Commissioner. Others will be released over the next few months.

This initiative ties in with the Commissioner’s mandate to promote the advancement of both official languages. It also aims to follow up on the 2013 Report of the Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act in which the Committee expressed hope that “the Commissioner make greater efforts to improve public awareness of [her] role.”

The public can consult and print the first two factsheets on language rights by going to the website of the Office of the Commissioner at www.officiallanguages.nb.ca.

For more information, please contact:

Hugues Beaulieu
Director of Public Affairs and Research
506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444
Hugues.Beaulieu@gnb.ca


About the Commissioner of Official Languages

The Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly. Her role is to protect the language rights of the members of the Anglophone and Francophone communities and to promote the advancement of both official languages.