Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Quebec, several measures have been put in place to help contain the spread of the virus, but one Montreal-area couple feels it was discriminated against.
Linda Rainsforth says she and her partner, Graham Gauthier, were turned away from their local Metro grocery store in Saint-Zotique, Que. last week because of their age.
“As I entered, I went to wash my hands and I was stopped by a woman who works there, an employee, who asked me my age,” Rainsforth said.
The conversation happened in French and after a brief misunderstanding over Rainsforth’s age, the employee told her she couldn’t shop there.
“She said ‘if you’re over 70, you can’t come into the store, you’re going to have to shop online,” Rainsforth explained.
As she turned and started walking away, Rainsforth said the employee started yelling at her.
“She was very abrupt and she was telling me, ‘it’s Mr. Legualt’s law,'” Rainsforth said.
Gauthier was next in line, but he was also turned away.
Rainsforth said she’s been shopping at the Metro store for about 10 years, but was left shaken by the experience.
“It made me feel terrible and I was very embarrassed,” she said.
“To hear her yelling behind me, telling me that it was a law and, you know, I felt like I had broken a law — it didn’t make me feel very good.”
As soon as she returned home, Rainsforth started looking for answers.
“I looked it up, thinking there is a law, but there is no law,” she said.
“On March 14, François Legault had suggested that people of 70 and over stay home for their own protection. That I can understand.”
As for shopping online, Rainsforth isn’t so sure.
“I”ve heard so many people talk about having mistakes done and they have to pay for the mistakes,” she said.
“One woman ordered 10 bananas and she got 10 bunches.”
But beyond ordering mistakes, Rainsforth says it’s a question of feeling safe.
“They’re not going to be as careful as I am,” she said, explaining she’s been self-isolating for over two months and only goes out to get groceries or go to the pharmacy.
She also brings wipes with her when she shops for extra protection.
“If I take something off the shelf, I am using a wipe,” she said.
“I don’t know who is going to be handling my groceries. I don’t know where they’ve been, who they’ve been in contact with, and it makes me very nervous,” she said of ordering her food online.
During his daily briefing Wednesday, Premier François Legault addressed the issue of discrimination against seniors.
“It’s unacceptable that we bar seniors,” he said.
Legault reiterated that seniors are no more at risk of transmitting the virus than younger people.
They are, however, more at risk of developing complications, especially if they have underlying health conditions.
“We ask the seniors stay at home for their own good,” Legault said.
A spokesperson for Metro told Global News the store owner acted alone but in good faith.
“The decision was made solely by the store owner hoping they could help further with the provincial government’s alignment in protecting our seniors over 70 years old,” said Metro communication manager Geneviève Grégoire.
The decision to refuse access to seniors was reversed on April 9, the same day Rainsforth and Gauthier say they were turned away.
“Currently there are no longer limitations on who can enter the store, providing they’re healthy and complying with social distancing practices,” Grégoire said.
She also defended the store owner by explaining that seniors weren’t being turned away without being offered assistance.
“The store was providing a personal shopper to go inside the store, fulfil the order and have it delivered to their home at no extra cost,” Grégoire said.
She acknowledged, however, that the arrangement maybe didn’t leave everyone satisfied.
“We apologize for any inconvenience some may have experienced,” she said.
— With files from Global’s Phil CarpenterView link »