Photo Credit: JGH
Dr. Alain Petit, conducts research in orthopedics at the JGH’s Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research. Now the government says that he must take off his yarmulke (if he was wearing one) before drawing up the red stuff from the tubie thingie.

The Parti Québécois has done it again. Its proposed “values” charter, banning the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols by public employees at work—meaning, of course, chadors and hijabs, but lumping in the process yarmulkes and Catholic medallions—has started a kind of WW3 with a local Jewish hospital.

The Jewish General Hospital in Quebec has launched an attack on the city’s controversial secularism charter, Bill 60, saying the legislation would make it hard for it to do the work it’s known for, Radio Station CJAD reported.

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The hospital has gone as far as hinting that it would openly defy the charter altogether, should it ever become law.

The statement published on their web site last week declared that they opposes Bill 60 as “patently discriminatory, on the grounds that the plan by the current Government of Quebec to ban overt religious symbols in the clothing of healthcare employees is discriminatory and deeply insulting to public-sector workers.”

Contrary to statements in the bill, the JGH believes that neutrality in the delivery of healthcare services is not compromised by religious symbols in the clothing of employees. As long as services are delivered with professional competence, courtesy and respect, the hospital argues, no legislation should be allowed to override the freedoms of religion or expression that are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

“This bill is flawed and contrary to Quebec’s spirit of inclusiveness and tolerance,” says Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, JGH Executive Director. “Since the bill is inherently prejudicial, there is no point in taking advantage of any clause that would grant us temporary, short-term relief. If approved, this offensive legislation would make it extremely difficult for the JGH to function as an exemplary member of Quebec’s public healthcare system.”

Dr. Rosenberg’s statement was endorsed by the JGH Board of Directors.

According to the hospital’s website, “for nearly 80 years, the JGH has prided itself on the fact that its staff—representing a wide diversity of faiths, with many employees wearing conspicuous items of clothing with religious symbols—has provided care of superior quality to Quebecers of all backgrounds. JGH patients continue to come to this hospital in ever-increasing numbers with only one thought in mind: to receive treatment and care of the highest quality. This is what matters most to residents of the hospital’s Côte-des-Neiges area, which is widely regarded as one of the most ethnically, racially, culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse neighborhoods in Canada. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the JGH receives no complaints about the religious or cultural apparel of its staff.”

The Parti Québécois told CJAD that it designed its controversial secularism charter, Bill 60, with the Jewish General Hospital in mind.

The minister responsible for Montreal, Jean-François Lisée, responded to the Jewish General’s suggestion that it might openly defy Bill 60 if it ever becomes law, and that it would not bother applying for a temporary withdrawal of the charter’s application, saying:

“We are completely aware and keenly aware of the specific nature and history of the Jewish hospital.”

well, that sounded a bit ominous…

Lisée invited the Jewish General’s officials to be present during the National Assembly’s planned public hearings on Bill 60.

Meanwhile, The JGH’s bold action is inspiring other institutions to follow its lead in the five weeks they have to prepare their briefs, the Montreal Gazette reports.

On Friday, the McGill University Health Centre said it would continue to defend the right of its staff to wear religious symbols, though it stopped short of saying it, too, would ignore the ban.

According to the Gazette’s Don Macpherson, a refusal by even one major hospital to enforce the ban could make it politically impossible for the government to make other institutions enforce it.

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