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Sep 17

Cancer and Politics

For my readers who don’t live here and may not be aware, our provincial government recently proposed a Charter of Quebec Values that would, among other things, ban the wearing of religious head gears by civil servants, including police officers, judges, health care workers and teachers. This is my response, my so-called Open Letter to Madame Marois.

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I am French Canadian, ‘de souche’, 100% pure laine. I was baptised and had my confirmation, attended French public school and private Catholic High School. But other than Midnight Mass and a few funerals, I can count on one hand the number of times I stepped in a church. My parents were not practicing Catholics, the ceremonies were more out of tradition. Though my mother did really enjoy a good Midnight Mass choir. I grew up in suburbia on the South Shore and spent my weekends and summers in the Laurentians with my father’s family. My father was a computer engineer back in the early days when computers took up entire rooms, so he understood the importance of speaking English in the work place. I was bilingual from the age of 10, maybe a bit earlier. I also was encouraged to travel the world, and have visited over 25 countries, lived in both Europe and South America, studied languages and proudly speak French, English, German, Spanish, some Russian and some Hebrew.

I learned Hebrew when I converted to Judaism. I am a French Canadian Jew.

My husband is also a born and bread Quebecer, a Jewish Quebecer, 3rd and 4th generations. One of his grand-fathers was a veteran of the Canadian army, the other a successful businessman who’s company was listed on the stock exchange. Together, my husband and I adopted 2 beautiful girls from China. They speak English, French and Hebrew, are being raised in the Jewish faith but celebrate Christmas with my French Canadian Family.

We are the ultimate multi-cultural poster-family.

So I feel like I am in a special position to express my opinion of the Charter of Quebec Values: it offends me. I understand the need to set rules about which extra holidays people can take, I fully support the face-uncovered to receive services. But I am 100% opposed to any limitations on the wearing of religious symbols.

As my readers know, I am currently fighting stage 3 breast cancer and being treated at the Jewish General Hospital, the very same hospital where my mother was treated when she battled the same disease. We both CHOSE to be treated there because of the excellent level of care. It had nothing to do with the fact that it was ‘Jewish’.

On the very day that the Charter was announced, I happened to be in chemo. That same day, they were short 6 nurses and the waiting room was overfilled. The extraordinary volunteers that are omni-present at the JGH set up folding chairs in the hallways. Nurses came from other departments, and all the patients were treated as quickly and efficiently as possible.

On that very day, I sat next to another patient who happens to wear a hijab. We kidded about how nothing has really changed for her, whereas I have to come up with daily camouflage for my bald head. The pharmacist that prepares our chemo-potions wears a kippa and tzitzis. One of our nurses, who hails from Haiti, pins the medal of a Saint on the pocket of her scrubs. During my many, many visits at the JGH in the last 8 months, I have been treated by doctors and nurses of many different backgrounds and religions, some with visible symbols and some not.

Not once have I cared. 

What I do care about are the wait times and treatment plans. I care that I have to wait a little more than the government mandated 28 days to receive treatment because the JGH center is so popular and does not turn away patients so inevitably, there are delays.

I care that my daughters are watching the news and asking why this debate is happening. I care that they are wondering if their friend’s dads who do wear kippas are going to choose to go practice somewhere else, like so many of our other friends have done. (Case in point, at my husband’s recent 25th high school reunion, almost half the attendees no longer lived in Montreal).

I’m proud to be a Montrealer, but these days, I’m pretty ashamed to be a Quebecer. I can’t believe that in a place that champions women’s rights, gay rights and socialized medicine, we are going to take out rulers to measure people’s crosses and fire competent child-care workers because they refuse to remove their hijabs. For anyone that will make the arguments that these women are under the thumb of their husbands or chose to come here and have to abide by our rules, I call bullshit. I’m a woman who chose my own religion as an adult and chose to abide by some, not all, of the traditions of that religion. I respect their choice to wear their symbol proudly. As for them choosing to come here, let me reply that the government CHOSE them, among all the applicants, knowing full well they were practicing muslims. You cannot allow someone to come here, and then change the rules they have to obide by or limit which jobs they can apply for. Of course, what of the Quebers like my husband and others, who have been here for many generations? They can’t very well ‘go back to where they came from’.

I beg you to stop wasting time, money and energy on this nonsense and instead, focus your efforts on actual problems, like hiring more nurses, renovating moldy schools, crumbling bridges and highways. Those problems need your attention. Not what people are wearing on their heads.