Plans to build accommodations for Inuit from Northern Quebec who have travelled to Montreal for health care are encountering serious opposition.
The provincial health and social services agency wants to open a 150-bed facility in the building that used to house the Chinese hospital in the Villeray neighbourhood.
The facility is intended to be a temporary home for Inuit from the northern Quebec region Nunavik, who are in Montreal to receive health care for themselves or their children that cannot be accessed in their northern communities.
Someone has been distributing leaflets in Villeray that warn of drug addicts moving into the neighbourhood, bringing crime and reducing the quality of life.
"They had put out flyers around the building the other day, saying that their community is at risk or in danger because of this group of people trying to locate to their area," Jeannie May, executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, told CBC News on Thursday.
The borough mayor, Annie Samson, has also voiced opposition to the project.
"When you take 125 people who are away from home, it's the novelty of it. It's the big city. Of course things will happen," she told Radio-Canada in May.
"If you tell me there won't be any incivility, you're lying."
Samson has since said that probably won't happen, but said she is still concerned the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Park-Extension will incur extra costs in services for Inuit staying at the facility.
She expressed frustration at the provincial health and social services agency for choosing Villeray as the site in a way she calls heavy-handed.
She told the CBC it would make more sense to build the facility closer to the city's English hospitals, where most of the Inuit receive health services.
The health agency did not return calls from CBC.
Inuit officials encounter discrimination
Currently, Inuit who travel to Montreal for health care stay in seven different locations across the city.
Officials with the Nunavik regional health board, which has been working on the Villeray facility, said they have encountered discrimination and many misperceptions in the community.
Nunavik health board chairperson Alacie Arngak told CBC News that the borough's mayor and councillors would not even shake her hand at a recent meeting.
Speaking in Inuktitut, Arngak described that meeting as the coldest and meanest meeting she had ever attended.
Some of what the council had said seemed like racist statements against Inuit, with some members implying that the medical centre would attract criminals, drug and alcohol abusers, Arngak said.
Leaflets give wrong impression, mother says
Ida Saunders has two children being treated in Montreal — a 12-year-old with spina bifida and a 17-year-old who was brought in by air ambulance for an emergency appendectomy.
Saunders was dismayed by the leaflets warning of the troubles the new housing would bring to Villeray.
"That's too bad that whoever picks this up and reads it may think that it's true," said Saunders. "It's not true. I just want to get my son taken care of and I just want to go back home after it's all done."
May said she plans to persuade the municipal government that Inuit people are not drug and alcohol addicts.
"I think the Inuit people bring humbleness and friendliness to a community rather than hostility," she said.
In the meantime, she said it's not clear what will happen to the project at this point.