In focus

Montfort: an institution

Faced with the Government of Ontario’s refusal to reverse its decision to reduce the Hôpital Montfort services, Francophones take legal action to save the health facility. The Lalonde v. Health Services Restructuring Commission (Ontario) case ends in a decisive victory on February 1, 2002, when the Government of Ontario decides not to appeal the decision in Montfort’s favour, rendered on December 7, 2001, by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Various arguments are raised before the Court, including the obvious obligation to provide services in French under Bill 8. Lawyers representing Montfort contend that reduced services would be an unprecedented attack on the quality of French-language health services in the region. They also stress that Montfort is the only community hospital serving Francophones in Ottawa and Prescott-Russell, and that residents would lose preferential access to services provided by Francophone professionals who are attentive to their particular needs.

But it is a whole other argument that ultimately motivates the Court of Appeal decision: that hospitals, like schools, are essential institutions within the community, and that they must therefore be protected against the vagaries of politics. A reduction in Montfort’s services would have the impact of dismantling an institution that dates back to 1953. It would, in fact, run counter to the fundamental constitutional principle of respect for and protection of minorities and their institutions. The Ontario Court of Appeal judges reiterates this argument in their judgment.

The political significance of this decision cannot be overstated. It sets a precedent and paves the way for advancement in the struggles of other Francophone communities across Canada who seek access to their own health facilities.