Statement by Commissioner Michel A. Carrier on the Government’s Announcement Regarding Ambulance Services
December 20, 2018
Over the past weeks, I met with several members of government, including the Premier and the Minister of Health, to explain to them that it is necessary that the government go ahead with a review of arbitrator McEvoy’s Ambulance New Brunswick decision.
Why the need for such a review? Simply put, because this decision is not compatible with the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick. Indeed, the decision of this arbitrator denies access to services of equal quality in French and English all across the province, a right enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On Tuesday, we learned that the government will go ahead with this review. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Minister of Health announced that he will direct Ambulance New Brunswick to implement the arbitrator’s decision.
In the Department of Health’s news release, the Minister reported that his announcement is aimed at “improving paramedic service in the province and prioritizing the lives and safety of New Brunswickers.”
Since the beginning of the controversy surrounding language requirements for certain paramedic postings, some have tried to have us believe that we must make a choice between ambulance services and language rights.
To our knowledge, Ambulance New Brunswick has never removed ambulances from circulation due to the fact that paramedics were unilingual. Also, we all know that other parts of the country have challenges with regard to recruitment and retention of paramedics. And we all know that salaries and work conditions play a major role in the recruitment and retention of staff.
In the only officially bilingual province of Canada, we must assure the provision of ambulance services of equal quality in both official languages. And this is mandated by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is also important to note that language barriers pose a risk to patients’ health and safety. A clear and timely communication is essential in emergency situations. As New Brunswick’s Dr. Aurel Schofield wrote it: “language access is a matter of patient safety and should not be treated as cultural sensitivity and used for political divisiveness. Quality and safety in health services is a goal desired by both linguistic communities. This is the evidence that should prevail clear of all political stands.”
Yesterday, during a conversation with the Premier of New Brunswick, he clearly confirmed to me that his government will respect the Official Languages Act. Therefore, in my opinion, the measures announced Tuesday in the Department of Health’s news release must not be implemented as they compromise the respect of New Brunswickers’ language rights.
For more information:
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick