The ruling by the Quebec Human Rights Commission recommending the Jewish General Hospital compensate ambulance driver Yvon Verreault the astronomical amount of $10,000 because he was not allowed to eat his non-kosher meal in the hospital’s kosher section is a blatant perversion of religious rights.
But first, it’s important to get the story straight. Much of the media hype on the matter has meant lots of misinformation has been bandied about on what actually occurred. As well, contrary to what people might think, Verreault is not automatically awarded the money. The ruling of the commission is only a recommendation. The hospital has until Feb. 16 to either pay the money, or do nothing. If they do nothing, the case automatically goes to a tribunal, which is a court. Only at that time will a judge determine the outcome of this situation.
According to the complaint filed by Verreault and obtained by The Suburban, the Urgences Santé driver states that he was having lunch with a co-worker at the restaurant located in the atrium of the Jewish General Hospital.
According to Verreault, he warmed his spaghetti up in a microwave and sat in the area to eat. Verreault maintains he was approached by an employee of the hospital who told him he could not eat there because it was a kosher area, and he had to move. He states that the hospital employee threatened to call security if he did not comply. Verreault writes in his complaint that he had a right to eat where he wanted to because he was in a public space located in a Quebec institution supported by tax dollars. He states “In 25 years of my career I have never been subjected to such humiliation....” and continued “Have you ever been a victim of segregation? Is it acceptable, or is it simply unacceptable?”
Who is really being intolerant here? All the ambulance driver had to do was move to another part of the building.
It’s hard to understand how Verreault could feel so humiliated by being asked to respect the religious rights of others. His behaviour, although it occurred two years ago, smacks of a level of intolerance that is quickly becoming all too familiar in this province. What Verreault did not know, is that by eating non-kosher food in a kosher area, Verreault compromised the hospital’s kosher certification. The hospital has a mashgiach, a person who acts as a supervisor to make sure the dietary laws are followed. The mashgiach is under the supervision of the Va’ad, an organization that can grant — or take away — this kind of certification if strict Jewish dietary laws are contravened.
Ironically, by siding with Verreault, the commission is going against the very reasons why the hospital came into being, to fight discrimination. It wasn’t so long ago that Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice in hospitals in Montreal. That’s why the city’s Jewish community raised the money to build their own institution, and did so in 1934.
Integral to its creation was to provide top medical service in an environment that respected the Jewish religion, and that included strict dietary laws. Consequently, all the kitchens at the hospital are kosher. The main, large dining room alternates days of serving meat or dairy. Pork is not served, and neither is cheeseburgers nor butter on turkey sandwiches.
This weekend, Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair showed his ignorance when he came out in support of the commission’s ruling, stating that he saw no problem eating a ham sandwich in a kosher area. Doing so means he has no clue as to how Jewish dietary laws work. Even a fork that touches unkosher food must go through a special process to render it kosher.
Hospital spokesperson Glenn Nashen said right now, he does not know what the hospital will do. We say the hospital should not pay a cent to Verreault, and let the case go to the tribunal. We don’t need a precedent to be set that would allow others to follow the actions of Verreault. It’s up to the Jewish General to fight for their right to keep the institution kosher, out of respect for the founders of the hospital, and the Jewish community as a whole.