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British Columbia’s secretive health authorities will now have to meet in public and only move behind closed doors in “limited circumstances” as a result of a B.C. Supreme Court ruling handed down yesterday on a legal challenge launched by the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE).

Justice M.D. Macaulay determined that by meeting behind closed doors, the health authorities were in violation of provincial law. That statute - the Health Authorities Act - sets out that board meetings must be open to the public unless there are legitimate reasons to close them.

In his written decision, Justice Macaulay had a sharp rebuke for health authorities and their claim that they were right to exclude the public. These justifications show “a cynical favouring of the interest of the bureaucracy over that of the public,” writes Macaulay, “as well as a stunning disregard for the legislative intent” of the Health Authorities Act.

HEU spokesperson Chris Allnutt hails the outcome as an important victory for the public interest.

“This ruling will be welcomed by many British Columbians who are concerned about how decisions affecting health care in their communities are made,” Allnutt says. “It will force health authorities and the provincial government to be more open, transparent and accountable for their actions.”

In the wake of Victoria’s controversial reorganization of the province’s health authorities in 2001, Allnutt says his union has been deeply concerned that too many key decisions about health care cuts, closures and privatization are being made behind closed doors. As a result, he says, HEU launched the legal action last December.

The union had also sought a ruling that the Provincial Health Services Authority was improperly established and illegal. However, while noting that the PHSA had been set up differently, Justice Macaulay ruled against the union. Macaulay also dismisses health authority claims that HEU lacked proper legal standing to argue its case in the first place. The justice says the union does have standing because “HEU serves the public in my view, by performing a watchdog function.”

For an electronic copy of the ruling go to HEU’s website at www.heu.org.

Stephen Howard, director of communications, 604-240-8524