Bill 96 will hinder access to health care in English, legal experts warn

The main problem with the bill is that “for the first time, it prohibits certain communications,” said Montreal lawyer Eric Maldoff.

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Following a demonstration that saw thousands of people march through the streets of Montreal on Saturday to denounce Bill 96, Prime Minister François Legault and Simon Jolin-Barrette, his minister responsible for French, held conferences separate press releases this week to assure the English-speaking community that access to health care in their language will not be affected. Legault accused his critics of spreading “misinformation”.

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A growing chorus of Quebec legal experts, health service advocates and patient advocacy groups warn, however, that little in the bill clearly guarantees the continued right to health care and social services in English. , and that many things pose a threat.

“To say there’s no need to worry here doesn’t strike me as reflecting what people see in the text of the law,” said Robert Leckey, dean of McGill University’s faculty of law. .

“Is there any other province that prohibits a German-speaking doctor and a German-speaking patient, or a German-speaking social worker and a German-speaking client…from speaking in a language in which they could communicate better? That’s what worries me. »

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The main problem with Bill 96 is that “for the first time, it prohibits certain communications,” said Eric Maldoff, a Montreal lawyer and president of the Coalition for the Quality of Health and Social Services, which campaigns for a better access to care. “It’s one thing to legislate that some communication is required, as everyone has the right to be served in French. But to take the next step and say that no one can be treated in another language unless the law allows it is a whole different story.

The bill requires all members of Quebec’s civil administration, from permit office employees to nursing home staff, to be “exemplary” and to use French exclusively in written and oral communications with their clients, with some exceptions. On Monday, Jolin-Barrette said Anglophone concerns are unfounded, in part because an amendment passed in February clarifies that Bill 96 does not usurp section 15 of the Health Services Act. and social services, thereby guaranteeing the English-speaking community the right to obtain these services in English.

But Maldoff notes that the wording of the amendment is vague and appears to be more about medical emergencies than day-to-day operations, long-term care or special needs. Nor does it cover segments such as youth services or mental health care – areas where clear communication between healthcare professionals and their clients is essential.

From a legal standpoint, the amendment appears to only apply to narrow, case-by-case exceptions, Leckey said in a series of tweets he posted on Wednesday.

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“The health exception can be interpreted narrowly – even limited to life-and-death situations,” he wrote.

Maldoff noted that Section 15 of the Health Act guarantees access to care in English, but only “with respect to the organizational structure and the human, material and financial resources of institutions.”

Since Bill 96 states that an employer should not impose knowledge of a second language as a pre-requisite to obtaining employment unless they can prove that there is a real need , there’s a growing chance that fewer people who can speak English or other languages ​​will be hired, Maldoff said.

“That begs the question of what that means, a ‘real need’ – does that mean the five-story nurse is enough to cover the problem?” He asked. “And who decides?

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Bill 96 also allows for third-party whistleblowing of public employees who are perceived to violate its provisions, such as communicating in a language other than French when not necessary. Faced with the prospect of disciplinary action up to and including suspension or firing, health and social care workers may be afraid to speak English, Maldoff said.

Giving the Office québécois de la langue française the right to carry out searches without a warrant to verify in which language the services are provided “presents a very serious risk, not only for Anglos but for Francos, that the confidentiality of their medical records, everything, will be compromised,” said constitutional scholar Julius Grey.

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“I think there will be constant pressure to go further and push the French more. At the end of the day, I think the government would like it to be as difficult to have services in English here as it is to have services in French in Saskatchewan.

There is also no guarantee that new immigrants to Quebec will be able to access health care in their language six months after arrival, Gray noted. The reform of Quebec’s language charter proposes that public services, including health care, be offered in French only to immigrants once they have been in the province for six months. Last month, a coalition of doctors and healthcare providers warned that the legislation “could put people’s lives at risk or have negative mental effects if enforced”.

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Faced with a deluge of imposed bureaucratic hurdles, including the need to prove the need to hire workers fluent in English or other languages, “many institutions, which are already overburdened and overstretched, will be less likely to try “Maldoff said.

Bill 96 also appears to stipulate that services are guaranteed for “historic English speakers,” who have been defined by Legault and others as those who are eligible for English education in Quebec, Maldoff said. That means 300,000 to 500,000 of the province’s 1.1 million people who feel more comfortable receiving health care services in English may no longer qualify, he said.

Patient Advocate Seeta Ramdass, a member of the Montreal Children’s Hospital’s Family Advisory Forum Patient Committee, said how patients communicate, especially as they age, is the one of the most important clinical indicators that healthcare providers use to determine their status. Hindering their ability to communicate in the language in which they are most comfortable “contravenes the mission of the Ministry of Health to provide safe, inclusive and optimal care to all members of Quebec society”.

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Activists demand that health and social services be exempted from Bill 96 or that patients’ rights be guaranteed under the law amending the Charter of the French language, which should be put to the vote of the National Assembly before the legislative breaks for the summer.

If the bill passes as is, Gray predicted that overall services will decline, increasing the chances that symptoms and problems will go untreated, leading to more health problems and higher costs.

“Nobody wins from Bill 96,” he said. “There will be no one in four years who will feel better, neither francophones, nor anglophones, nor allophones. Everyone is a loser.

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  1. Premier François Legault, campaigning with Sainte-Rose MP Christopher Skeete in Laval on Tuesday, says

    Opponents of Bill 96 are spreading ‘misinformation’: Legault

  2. Dawson College students send simultaneous emails to their MPs during the anti-Bill 96 rally last week.

    Deciphering the key points of Bill 96

  3. A woman holds a sign during a rally to oppose Bill 96 in Montreal on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

    Anglophone concerns over Bill 96 unfounded, says Jolin-Barrette

  4. Protesters march down Atwater Avenue during a rally to oppose Bill 96 in Montreal on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

    Thousands of Montrealers march against Bill 96

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