‘That’s just the tip of the iceberg’: Quebec health workers talk about their experiences with racism

Click to play video: 'Stamping out racism in Quebec health care' Stamping out racism in Quebec health care
WATCH: Earlier this week, news of a hospital job posting for white female candidates only, stirred outrage across the province. Now, more healthcare professionals are speaking out about their experiences of racism at work. As Global's Dan Spector explains, there are calls for Quebec’s new anti-racism minister to step up and ensure situations like this do not happen. – Mar 18, 2021

Following the news of a recruitment letter from the Saint-Eustache Hospital that called for “white women only,” more health-care professionals are speaking out about their experiences with racism at work.

Yvonne Sam worked as a Montreal nurse for more than four decades. When the Saint-Eustache posting came out, she thought of the times patients refused her care because of the colour of her skin.

“I have experienced that because I was Black. Yes, I have,” she told Global News.

She says it’s something that regularly happens to nurses of colour working in health institutions.

“Many times people have had to choke back their tears because of the job. They have had to remain silent because they fear for their jobs,” Sam said.

Read more: Health authority fires Quebec nurses accused of mocking Indigenous patient

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It’s not just in hospitals and long-term care residences. Heather Parnell runs an agency that dispatches nurses and orderlies to help seniors at their homes.

“I have to confess that the first time it happened, I was kind of shocked into silence,” Parnell recounted.  “Somebody literally said to me, ‘No Blacks,’ and I was there like, ‘What?'”

She said it happens a few times per year. She tries to explain that the workers are perfectly qualified, but if the client doesn’t come around she ends the conversation.

“I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t work with you,'” she said.

Sam said she worked in psychiatry at the Douglas Hospital for several years, and that it’s always worth trying to get racist patients to come around.

“You need to work on the patient to get him to accept everybody. We’re in Canada, it’s multicultural society, with diversity and community. Work with him towards that. Why not?”

The Saint-Eustache case is under investigation. Officials say the patient in question has dementia and would get agitated when his care attendants were anything other than white and female.

Sam took issue with the minister responsible for fighting racism, Benoit Charette, stopping short of calling the posting racist in question period at the national assembly.

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“He’s just another passenger on the bandwagon of denial,” she said.

Read more: Quebec health officials probe job posting requiring applicants be white women

She says to address racism, Quebec first needs to recognize it.

“If he can’t see that is racism, I don’t hold much hope for anything,” Sam told Global News.

In November, the province announced a $15-million plan to implement diversity training for health-care workers in the wake of Joyce Echaquan’s experience being degraded and insulted by hospital staff in Joliette just before her death.

Sam says that’s not enough.

“They need to follow up with it, and implement harsh penalties for those who openly display racist acts and gestures,” she said.

Sam says she is also working with McGill University to help bring more young people of colour into the medical field.

“We have to change hearts too. We have to change hearts,” she said.

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