CBC News Montreal has learned the province is investigating after a West Island woman says she was harassed at an Emploi-Québec office because of her hijab.
Aisha Forsythe said an employment counsellor at the government office told her she had made a choice to "live in a ghetto," and that she would need to go to an "Arab country" to find work.
'She said, ‘You need to go to an Arab country.’' - Aisha Forsythe, West Island resident
“She said, ‘No, in Quebec this is a liberal, secular society. We don't accept that.’ She said, ‘You need to go to an Arab country.’ She said, ‘You made a decision to put yourself into a ghetto, and that's your problem. Sorry.’" Forsythe told CBC.
Forsythe has lived on Montreal’s West Island for 10 years.
She's originally from Newfoundland and converted to Islam 15 years ago.
The stay-at-home mom said now that her children are older she wants to go back to work.
She reached out to the Emploi-Québec office on St-Jean Boulevard and met with a counsellor there last week.
Forsythe said the session got off to a bad start when the counsellor noticed she didn't understand French.
“She said, ‘Why don’t you speak French? You live in Quebec.’ That shocked me. I was a bit taken aback.”
Forsythe said the counsellor went on to comment on her headscarf.
“She said, ‘You’re not going to find work with that.’”
Forsythe said she has encountered intolerance before, but never expected it at a government office.
"A lot of women are in my position and they seek help from this agency and I can't even imagine how many others have possibly faced the same treatment... I was devastated. I was very shocked first of all. My heart was racing and pounding. I didn’t know what to say... I sat there, just hurt."
Forsythe spoke with a manager before leaving the office and filed a formal written complaint two days later.
She said she’s also considering filing a human rights complaint.
The Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations calls the incident unacceptable.
“I think there’s a lot of accountability that has to be asked, not only for the regional director but very likely go straight to the minister responsible to see if this is the kind of conduct that should be tolerated in this department,” said CRARR executive director Fo Niemi.
A spokesperson for the ministry of employment confirms it's received Forsythe's complaint and is now investigating.