Chinese-Canadian family files discrimination complaint against St. Mary's Hospital

St. Mary's Hospital is facing allegations of racism and language discrimination, after one of its employees refused service to an elderly Chinese woman who did not speak either English or French.

"My grandmother was scared, she didn't know what was going on," said Tiffany Lai. "She had an employee from St. Mary's Hospital yelling at her the entire time."

Lien Quan, 91, was only in for a routine eye exam, but says she felt disregarded and overlooked from the start.

"They were greeted with hostility from the moment of their arrival," Lai recounted, on behalf of her grandmother and father, who accompanied Quan to the appointment.

"She was harsh and impolite; speaking English very quickly when she knew my father only speaks basic English," Lai said. "My dad was angry and even asked the employee why she couldn't be more patient, since she was dealing with an elderly patient."

The employee's apparent frustrations turned to open hostility when she abruptly ended the exam.

'Why don't you go to a Chinese hospital?'

"She aggressively asked my father and my grandmother why didn't they go to Chinese hospital or a private clinic, and asked why they even came to St. Mary's in the first place," Lai said.

St. Mary's Hospital would not comment on the specific incident, but issued a statement to CJAD 800.

"A patient that is not fluent in either official language may choose to be accompanied by a person that speaks either French or English," the statement reads. 

"In some instances, the Montréal West Island CIUSSS may provide an interpreter among its staff, or turn to the Interregional Interpreters Bank to facilitate access to health and social services."

Lai says the employee never brought up the possibility of bringing in an interpreter. St. Mary's later clarified that "translation services are not available for routine procedures but can be arranged for specific interventions with advance notice."

Still, Lai is demanding an apology from the hospital for what she calls a racist reaction to solvable problem.

"The words 'Chinese hospital' were used," Lai said. "Is the employee stating that Chinese people should only go to a Chinese hospital, and that other people from different races should only go to their 'insert race' hospitals?"

Lai's family has submitted a formal complaint to the St. Mary's Hospital Users Committee.

"I want to give them the benefit of the doubt," Lai said. "The employee does not represent the hospital as a whole, but we do deserve an apology."