Bill 96 will prevent access to healthcare in English, legal experts warn

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

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Following a protest in which thousands of people marched 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 separate press conferences this week to reassure the Anglophone community that access to health care in their language will not be affected. Legault accused critics of him of spreading “disinformation.”

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Yet a growing chorus of Quebec legal experts, health care advocates and patients’ rights groups warn that there is little in the bill that clearly guarantees continued rights to health care and social services in English. , and much of it poses a threat.

“It seems to me that saying there’s nothing to worry about here doesn’t reflect what people are seeing in the text of the legislation,” said Robert Leckey, dean of the McGill University law school.

“Does any other province prohibit 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 can 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 Quality Health and Human Services, which advocates for better access to the atenttion. “It is one thing to legislate that certain communication is required, like everyone has the right to be served in French. But taking the next step and saying that nobody can be treated in another language, except if the law allows it, is a completely different story.”

The bill requires all members of Quebec’s civil administration, from licensing office workers to nursing home staff, to be “exemplary” and use French exclusively in oral and written communications with their clients, with certain exceptions. On Monday, Jolin-Barrette said the Anglophones’ concerns are unfounded, in part because an amendment adopted in February states that House Bill 96 does not usurp Section 15 of the Health and Human Services Act, and therefore Therefore, it guarantees the English community the right to obtain those services in English.

But Maldoff points out that the amendment’s language is vague and appears to refer more to health care emergencies than to day-to-day operations, long-term care or special needs. It also does not cover segments such as youth services or mental health care, areas where clear communication between health professionals and their clients is essential.

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

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“The health exception may be narrowly construed, including limited to life-and-death situations,” he wrote.

Maldoff noted that Section 15 of the health law guarantees access to care in English, but only “according to the organizational structure and the human, material and financial resources of the institutions.”

Since House Bill 96 stipulates that an employer must not impose a requirement of knowing a second language as a prerequisite for obtaining a job, unless it can show that there is a real need, there is a greater chance that fewer people who speak English or other languages ​​are hired, Maldoff said.

“It begs the question what does that mean, a ‘real need,’ does that mean the nurse five floors away is enough to cover the problem?” she asked. “And who decides?”

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Bill 96 also allows for third-party reporting of public employees who are deemed to be in violation of its provisions, such as communicating in a language other than French when not necessary. Faced with the prospect of disciplinary action that could include suspension or termination, health and social service workers may be afraid to speak English, Maldoff said.

Giving the Office quebécois de la langue française the right to conduct warrantless searches to verify in which language services are being provided “presents a very serious risk, not only to Anglos but to French people, that the privacy of their records doctors, everything, will be compromised,” said constitutional attorney Julius Grey.

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“I think there will be constant pressure to go further and push the Frenchman further. In the end, I think the government would like it to be as difficult to get services in English here as it is to get services in French in Saskatchewan.”

There’s also no guarantee that new immigrants to Quebec will be able to access health care in their language six months after they arrive, Gray said. Quebec’s language charter reform 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 health care providers warned that the legislation “could put people’s lives at risk or have negative mental impacts if enforced.”

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Faced with an avalanche of imposed bureaucratic hurdles, including the need to demonstrate the need to hire workers with knowledge of English or other languages, “many institutions, which are already overloaded and overwhelmed, will be less likely to try,” Maldoff said.

Bill 96 also appears to establish that services are guaranteed to “historical Anglophones,” who have been defined by Legault and others as those who are eligible for education in English in Quebec, Maldoff said. This means that 300,000 to 500,000 of the province’s 1.1 million residents who are most comfortable receiving health care services in English will no longer be able to do so, she said.

Patient advocate Seeta Ramdass, a member of Montreal Children’s Hospital’s Family Advisory Forum patient committee, said how patients communicate, particularly as they age, is one of the most important clinical indicators used by health care providers to determine your status. Impeding their ability to communicate in the language in which they feel 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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Advocates call for health and social services to be exempt from Bill 96, or for patients’ rights to be guaranteed within the law to amend the French charter, which is expected to be put to a vote in the National Assembly. before the legislative pauses for the summer.

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

“Nobody wins with Bill 96,” he said. “In four years there will be no one who feels better, neither Francophones nor Anglophones nor allophones. Everyone is a loser.”

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