Editorial: Cold welcome for Inuit health centre is unacceptable

Citizens of the Villeray district of Montreal were divided about the new potential neighbours.

Nunavik’s Regional Board of Health and Social Services was looking for a centre to house temporary Inuit visitors travelling to Montreal from the North for medical treatment.

Currently, seven different locations scattered across Montreal house the patients, who come to Montreal to get the treatment unavailable to them in their home. A bus brings the patients to their treatment at the Montreal General Hospital.

The centre’s planners thought that they had found a solution to their search.

An empty hospital – the old Chinese hospital – stands in the Villeray area, which, with St-Michel and Park Extension, forms a borough in the north of Montreal. The right size for the planned project, the hospital was picked as a prime spot for practical reasons.

And so began the division between Villeray residents.

Some of the residents were ready to roll out the welcome mat to a group of temporary visitors, while others were rallying to make the potential new guests feel terribly unwelcome.

Opposition to the project has created some of the most loathsome comments this city has heard for awhile. While the health centre’s planners had picked their location for practical reasons — size, availability — in terms of community atmosphere and support, they could not have made a worse choice.

Opponents were concerned that drugs and rapists would descend on the neighbourhood should the plan go through. Others said they would rather help their own elderly before helping other communities’ senior citizens.

Those in opposition were no doubt thinking of what is a reality for many Inuit patients who come down to the city for treatment. Sometimes patients miss their flight home, for whatever reason, and end up living poor and destitute on the streets, in a society different from the one they grew up in.

But the proposed centre would be treating children and the elderly, said reports. And one can imagine that with one central location instead of seven scattered homes, the support system at the Chinese hospital would be stronger and more tightly-knit. A community would help patients return North.

Supporters saw the project as a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. Montreal officials were pro-centre, and a 650-strong petition was submitted to the borough council in favour of the centre.

But before either group had the chance to experience new visitors, the plug was pulled last week, when supporters announced they were scrapping their plans to set up the centre in Villeray.

The reason? As you can imagine, the planners felt that their plans were not welcome in Villeray.

This insensitivity to the need to build what is essentially a community centre for sick, temporary out-of-towners shows a remarkable lack of empathy and fear of others.

While Montrealers and Quebecers may moan about the quality of health care and how long it may take to get an appointment with a specialist or even get a regular family doctor, nothing compares to not even having those medical services in your community. Every Montrealer is a bus, car or ambulance ride away from a drop-in clinic or emergency room. For those who complained about helping their elderly before others, a noble cause to be sure, but how can you compare sending your grandfather “away’ to a hospital on the other side of the city to sending your grandfather more than halfway across a huge province?

Quebec’s medical infrastructure is crumbling, and the province has taken steps and created partnerships to combat this: the building of two super-hospitals. But how can we construct two super-hospitals on the island of Montreal, one to satisfy each side of the great language divide, but ignore the plight of northern Native people who lack basic medical services?

The provincial governent should be stepping in to guide Nunavik’s Regional Board of Health and Social Services. The Board should receive help with finding a location, and should planners encounter resistance from locals, further help should be doled out to help Nunavik reach out to the community in the interest of mutual learning and appreciation.

Also, we should all try to not be so racist.


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