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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Jewish General Hospital upholds right of staff to religious wear

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Mark Wainberg

MONTREAL — The Jewish General Hospital (JGH) says it supports the freedom of its employees to wear religious symbols, however overt they are

“In the opinion of the JGH, the freedom of choice to wear conspicuous religious symbols does not impede the ability of its employees to deliver proper and timely services to the public,” it said in a Sept. 11 press release.

“Similarly, as long as those services are offered with professional competence, courtesy and respect, the recipients’ perceptions should not override the freedom of religion and the freedom of expression of hospital employees.”

The JGH believes this freedom should be accorded to hospital employees anywhere.

Although the proposed charter of Quebec values unveiled by the minority Parti Québécois government on Sept. 10  would allow hospitals to apply for an exemption for a five-year, renewable period, the JGH thinks this might be impractical because staff members often hold clinical or academic appointments at multiple institutions.

This would mean they might have to conform to varying dress codes depending on whether each institution had or had not sought or received an exemption.

The JGH has a staff representing diverse faiths, it says, and many wear clothing or accessories that identify their religion. The JGH primarily serves Côte des Neiges, one of the most ethnically, racially and religious diverse districts in Canada, as well as people from throughout Quebec, it points out.

Yet, the JGH says it has received no complaints about the religious or cultural apparel of its staff.

Mark Wainberg, an observant Jew and director of the McGill University AIDS Centre located at the JGH, wears a kippah at work, including when he teaches at McGill University.

“Would I defy the law? I don’t know and could only decide after the law came into effect,” he told The CJN.

Wainberg is an officer of both the Order of Canada and the National Order of Quebec.

“I am not opposed to head scarves, but I do think that patients have a right to see the full faces of their caregivers.

“Actually, the law seems most onerous for Sikhs. Jews in Paris who are religious often wear baseball caps instead of kippot. The same is often true here. Sikhs have no options if they want to be religious,” he said.

“I hope that human relationships will not be affected either way [whether the charter is adopted or not].”

At his Sept. 10 press conference at the National Assembly, Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville explained that the “message we want to send with the exemption clause… is not an enticement for these establishments or these institutions to pull out of the overall framework of religious neutrality and, particularly, the regulations with regard to the wearing of religious symbols…

“The message we want to send is: Take time to adjust yourself to this new framework of religious neutrality… But obviously we do not want this clause to be a means by which everyone will pull out in a systematic fashion. We’re actually hoping… as few institutions as possible will actually take advantage of this cause.”

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