Some prominent Montreal doctors are condemning as “legislated bigotry” and “racist” Bill 60, which they say goes much farther in restricting religious freedoms than the proposed Charter of Quebec Values.
“I am floored that the charter even got to the stage where it was tabled in the National Assembly,” said Dr. Sanjeet Singh Saluja, a Sikh who wears a turban in the emergency room of the Montreal General Hospital.
“I am disgusted,” he added. “I cannot believe that in this day and age we’re even considering this as a society. It almost says to me that I need permission to be an individual in this community. It’s both insulting and just plain racist.”
Dr. Sanjeet Singh Saluja, an emergency room physician at the McGill University Health Centre, says he might leave Quebec if the Charter of Quebec Values becomes law. Vancouver Desi
Saluja warned that if the bill becomes law, he might leave Quebec.
“For the Parti Québécois government to tell me that I can’t wear my turban and practise is not negotiable. If it’s a choice between my religious freedoms and freedoms as an individual or practising medicine in Quebec (without a turban), I will leave.”
Bill 60 stipulates that “members of public bodies must not wear objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation.” By comparison, the charter of values unveiled in September did not mention clothing, but rather focused on headgear, such as the kippah, hijab and turban.
The bill also makes it more difficult for municipalities and hospitals to be exempt from its provisions. The charter had proposed the right to opt out for municipalities and hospitals — a right that could be renewed every five years.
Bill 60, however, imposes limits on opting out. A hospital could seek a five-year “transition period.” But afterward, it would have to seek permission from the government for a four-year extension, provided that a hospital has taken “measures ... to achieve the objectives” of the legislation.
For Saluja, such a provision is designed to “weed out” physicians like himself who wear turban or hijabs.
Normand Rinfret, chief executive director of the McGill University Health Centre, issued a statement saying that the MUHC “appreciates the exemption procedure” in the bill and “intends to use it to its fullest.
“As an academic health institution, our priority is to provide the population we serve with exceptional care. We believe this is best done by recruiting a diverse and dedicated group of health-care professionals, support staff, scientists, (medical) residents, students and volunteers, who are measured by their competencies and quality of their work.”
Dr. Michael Malus, chief of family medicine at the Jewish General Hospital, raised fears that Quebec will face an exodus of health professionals of different faiths if the bill became law.
“This is legislated bigotry,” Malus said, adding that he was not speaking on behalf of the Jewish General.
“Speaking as a Jewish doctor, I don’t wear a kippah but this is one step away from a yellow star,” he added, alluding to the patches that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.
Mark Wainberg, director the McGill University AIDS Centre, said he hopes the opposition parties in the National Assembly defeat the bill.
“This is a very silly law that probably has some political motivation behind it,” Wainberg said.
Jaswant Guzder, head of child psychiatry at the Jewish General, described the bill as “distressing.”
“This kind of legislated discrimination that limits the ability of its citizens to feel culturally safe in this province if they do not have the same convictions or values as the dominant society does creates a very great disease,” Guzder said.