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January 27th 2009

Respect for language rights and health care quality go hand in hand

Comments of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick further to an article published in the January 19, 2009 edition of the Telegraph Journal

As Commissioner of Official Languages, I feel I must respond to Margaret-Ann Blaney’s remarks concerning the language requirements established for the position of head of the provincial trauma centre (“MD disputes gripes” – Telegraph Journal – January 19, 2009). In fact, her statements suggest that the bilingualism requirement attached to this position could mean hiring a physician with lesser professional skills. Those words fuel a false debate that no longer has any place in our province. It is not a question of choosing between compliance with the Official Languages Act and quality of care. Both must be ensured.

In the same article, Dr. Dennis Furlong, chair of the committee responsible for establishing the new trauma centre, aptly notes that the facility in question is a provincial centre. That means it will be offering all of its services to both linguistic communities.

As I have reported often, the 2002 Official Languages Act (OLA) and the obligations contained therein seemed to have presented many health establishments with challenges with respect to their capability of offering services of equal value in both official languages. All have taken measures to move towards full compliance with varying degrees of success. Most agree that it will take some time before they can offer all services as contemplated by the OLA. Unless we learn from history, we are condemned to repeat past mistakes; thus the importance of ensuring that linguistic obligations are at the forefront of considerations in the establishment of any new health institution. This is especially true when it is designed to and has a mandate to serve all of New Brunswick. The trauma centre is such a facility of capital importance for all New Brunswickers.

Leadership must play an essential role in the process. As it has been so appropriately recognized by the committee, there are very important symbolic and practical reasons why the head of that unit should be able to function in both official languages. It is an integral part of the efforts to ensure equal and complete access to services in both official languages.

It is normal for health care to be the subject of sometimes lively discussions. What is less so is having to point out that compliance with the Official Languages Act is an obligation, not an option, nearly 40 years after the first official languages legislation was adopted in New Brunswick. But allow me to point it out anyway. That will enable us to have more productive discussions necessary to progress towards true equality.


Michel A. Carrier, Q.C.
Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick