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Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed Headshot

A Quebec Doctor Asked Me to Remove My Hijab -- I Refused

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My anger at the ludicrousness of Bill 60 when I wrote my Open Letter to Pauline Marois has transformed over the past few months into a frustrated feeling of sadness. Watching our current government rule my place of birth is the equivalent of watching your childhood home be infested by termites, eating their way through the wood.

I join the thousands of other Quebecers sitting back watching the political situation deteriorate. Many feel helpless but I feel more than ever that the time to get involved and speak up is now. The political situation is such that we cannot simply let them get away with throwing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms out the window. I, along with thousands of others, have become relegated to third-class citizens, first for being a visible religious minority and second for being primarily anglophone. The bilingualism does not bother me. I was raised to be trilingual, however I worry for so many Quebecers who have not been so fortunate.

I was at the local walk-in clinic recently. It's winter and with the severe shortage of family doctors in this province, it's not uncommon to see people lining up at the doctor's office at 6 a.m. When my turn came, I was greeted curtly by a male doctor. I explained my cold symptoms to him and without missing a beat, he turned and asked me to remove my hijab. I asked why it would be necessary as I was there for a common cold/flu. He had full access to my ears/throat as is customary during a checkup. He demanded I take off my "entire scarf immediately." I told him that I did not see it as being necessary to remove it entirely.

"If you do not remove your entire scarf it will severely limit the quality of your medical care."

For any doctors reading this, please correct me if I'm wrong, if you are able to access a patient's ears/throat/chest does seeing their hair improve the quality of medical care? Needless to say, the remainder of the appointment was curt and uncomfortable. I left his office feeling that same feeling of annoyance at how badly things have deteriorated in this province.

For the few years I lived in Ontario, I had a wonderful female doctor who wore a loose scarf on her head. She was attentive, professional and empathetic. Her scarf in no way interfered with her ability to do her job, the same way that a kippah or turban would not interfere either. I cannot use the same adjectives to describe the doctor who recently treated me.

I left the clinic that day feeling confused. Was I wrong to be offended? The conclusion I came to was no. Absolutely not. I was no more in the wrong than a victim feels after being bullied.

I debated whether or not I'd share this story and as I did with the incident at the movie theatre, I knew I had to share what happened. I needed to do it for myself, but even more so for the dozens of patients who have more than likely been victim of the same sort of unnecessary prying to remove their hijab, or kippah or turban.

For the naysayers or eye-rollers out there, there is nothing wrong with removing my hijab or other article of clothing for a doctor if it is necessary for the sake of the medical examination. In this instance, it was not. It was the equivalent of asking a woman to fully remove her top and undergarment in order to examine her lungs.

The changes in the environment in Quebec are subtle but ever present. I have felt the chill in the air. From the racial slur while at the movies with my kids to reading passive aggressive comments on social media.

Our joie de vivre, pride in diversity and bilingualism has been replaced with political unease, targeted discrimination of visibly religious minorities and linguistic force that makes me look over the shoulder if the local big box store clerk greets me with a hello as if the Office de la Langue Francais police (yes, they actually exist) might jump out of nowhere and sentence her to death by poutine.

It's a frustration. Yet somehow I can't help but feel that this is what they want. They keep introducing these discriminatory, bigoted bills essentially weeding out the populous. It feels like a game of "let's drive away the religious minorities, then the anglos, then launch a referendum." Divide and conquer is nothing new. If only they approached issues that actually matter, like a severe doctor shortage, unemployment and crumbling infrastructure with the same fervor.

The time to feel helpless has passed. Our MINORITY government has called an election and the time to show up, cast our vote and make a difference is NOW.

First things first, call 1-888-353-2846 to make sure you are registered to vote. Do it now. Finish reading this, then pick up the phone and CALL.

Next up, share this post, and encourage others to do the same. I am tired of people pretending that things have not changed in Quebec. It is simply not true. Ask any visibly religious minority. There is a chill in the air and it's not the polar vortex, it's coming from the PQ.

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