December 20, 2018 8:19 pm
Updated: December 21, 2018 6:14 pm

Ambulance NB changes ‘compromise New Brunswickers’ language rights’: commissioner

WATCH: New Brunswick's commissioner of official languages says the decision to scrap bilingual hiring requirements is “not compatible” with the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick. Morganne Campbell reports.

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New Brunswick’s commissioner of official languages has taken exception to the province’s decision to scrap bilingual hiring requirements for paramedics in some mainly unilingual regions.

In a statement on Thursday, Michel Carrier said the decision is “not compatible” with the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick.

“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,” Carrier stated.

READ MORE: Provincial government orders Ambulance NB to scrap bilingual hiring condition

On Tuesday, New Brunswick Health Minister Hugh Flemming said the “lack of qualified bilingual applicants” means Ambulance NB will have to review the level of demand for each official language for the paramedic positions that are subject to re-posting.

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He also stated that in making this decision, the government is putting “lives over language” — something Carrier disputes.

“To our knowledge, Ambulance NB has never removed ambulances from circulation due to the fact that paramedics were unilingual,” Carrier stated. “Also, we all know that other parts of the country have challenges with regard to recruitment and retention of paramedics.

“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.”

READ MORE: New vehicles coming to Ambulance NB fleet in attempt to cut rural wait times

Last year, a court ruling found that bilingual paramedic services must be provided in the province while a labour adjudicator found that there may be ways to lessen language requirements. The recent changes were made despite that ruling, with Flemming claiming it will “pave a path forward” that he believes is in the best interest of New Brunswickers.

The New Brunswick government has yet to respond to the language commissioners’ statement.

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