It’s remarkable how some people in decision-making positions can be so tone-deaf to the public conversation. In Quebec, we’ve seen the furor over police abuse of Indigenous women in Val-d’Or, the resulting Viens commission report, and the shocking story of Joyce Echaquan dying in a Joliette hospital as she listened to racist slurs from the nurses whose job it was to treat her.
Racism is an issue everywhere, not just in Quebec. But it has been a long-overdue conversation here; one that in recent months and years has finally come to the fore.
So, one wonders, how could staff at a human resources department at an integrated health and social services centre (known by its French acronym as a CISSS) in the Laurentian region possibly not be aware that advertising a job “for white women only” could be seen as acceptable?
According to La Presse, the CISSS des Laurentides tried on 10 separate occasions last autumn to recruit orderlies “with white skin” to work at the St-Eustache hospital. This is supposedly excused by the presence of “a difficult patient” who did not want anyone but a white woman to change her bedpan. It’s almost funny.
But it’s not funny. Imagine how the rabid talk-show culture in this province would react if a hospital advertised a job only for a Muslim woman in a burka because a patient didn’t want to be treated by an infidel. It’s unimaginable that this would happen, of course, as it should be for any employer – not just a publicly funded one – to advertise for “white women only.”
Left unsaid is that the job of an orderly is hard, often distasteful, and underpaid. That’s why it’s difficult to find a “white woman.” Often the only people willing to undertake such work are recent immigrants – thus, people of colour, desperate to make their way in this country and willing to do whatever work is available to them.
We saw this in the early stages of the pandemic, as recent immigrants exploited by employment agencies were sent from one seniors’ home to another, catching and spreading Covid-19, and sometimes dying of it.
But still, many people in Quebec denigrate immigrants, especially people of colour, and even more so those of Muslim faith. And of course, if you wear a head-covering, the most important thing for the Legault government is to deny you a job in the public sector as it did with Bill 21 – something apparently so important that they had to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the constitution to suspend the Charter rights that are infringed by this law. If that is not systemic racism, I don’t know what is.
And still the Legault government tries not to see the forest for the trees. The newly appointed minister responsible for addressing racism, Benoit Charette, responded to the story by saying it’s too early to “cry racism” over the incident. One wonders when the time will finally arrive.
Finally, there’s ignorance, and then there’s outright cruelty.
Of all places, for two CLSC nurses in Joliette to abuse an Atikamekw woman for being Indigenous is even more remarkable given the story of Joyce Echaquan. The woman, Jocelyne Ottawa, was being treated for a foot injury when the two nurses “joked” to her that they would call her Joyce. Imagine.
One hopes the anti-racism minister will pick up the pace in learning his job.