Quebec health officials investigate job posting requiring applicants be white women

·3 min read

MONTREAL — A regional health authority north of Montreal says it is investigating after it was revealed one of its job postings last year for a patient attendant required that candidates be white women.

Montreal La Presse reported Wednesday that health officials in St-Eustache, Que., northwest of Montreal, posted a job 10 times last fall seeking only white female applicants to work with a patient who allegedly objected to being treated by non-whites.

Quebec deputy premier Genevieve Guilbault told reporters Wednesday that any job requiring a certain ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation is unacceptable.

"A job offer that prescribes an ethnic origin, a sex or a sexual orientation, or anything of the kind, that does not make any sense. We all agree on it," Guilbault said.

She said she has empathy for caregivers who work with patients who have cognitive impairment but says that doesn't allow employees to be selected over others based on skin colour.

The regional health authority in the Laurentians region said in an emailed statement that an internal investigation has been opened to ensure such a situation is not repeated.

A spokeswoman with the authority said the job posting, which La Presse said was distributed to external placement agencies, was exceptional and connected to a patient at the St-Eustache hospital suffering from dementia who was disruptive in the presence of racialized staff.

"So it seems that the choice to ask for a white employee was more about ensuring the safety of the staff of colour, whom we do not wish to place in risky situations, and not to respond to a patient’s racist preference, which is very different," Julie Lemieux-Cote wrote.

"On the other hand, this is absolutely not the right way to resolve such a problem, and we will see that other options are considered instead in the future."

Liberal health critic Andre Fortin noted the issue raises red flags because numerous people at the health authority would have been involved before the posting went out.

"Unacceptable," Fortin said. "It's 2021, we're in Quebec, and there is absolutely no way that a government (agency) should put out a request for employees based on race."

Fortin said the situation is a test for Benoit Charette, the province's newly appointed minister to combat racism, whose riding includes St-Eustache.

Charette tweeted that he read the La Presse report with "a feeling of disgust," but during question period, he said he would wait for the investigation before concluding it was a racist act.

"So be careful before you cry racism, but, yes, the posting was clearly, clearly inappropriate, the choice of words was utterly inexcusable," he said in response to a question from the opposition.

News of the job posting is the latest incident involving allegations of racism in Quebec's health-care system. Last September, an Indigenous woman named Joyce Echaquan filmed herself being mocked by health-care workers as she lay dying in a Joliette, Que., hospital.

In a separate case, two nurses accused of mocking an Indigenous patient last week at a community clinic in the same city northeast of Montreal were fired on Tuesday.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations in Montreal, said there have been enough incidents to warrant a broader look at the issue.

"It's about time for the Quebec government to think more in terms of connecting all the dots ... is there something inherently discriminatory in the health-care system?" he asked.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the opposition Quebec solidaire agreed that the latest incident points to deeper problems. "It's still a reflection that racism is not only a bad apples problem," he told reporters in Quebec City. "There is a structural component to racism, and we need to have that conversation and we need to address this in Quebec."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press