On Wednesday September 5, 2012, the day after the deadly shooting at Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois victory rally, Mr. Alex Montreuil was assaulted at the Jewish General Hospital by a French speaking female customer, who was enraged that he placed his order in English. What brings this matter within my bailiwick is that Mr. Montreuil was placing an allergy aware order because of his life-threatening allergy to tomatoes, and his assailant used his allergen as a weapon.
I had the privilege of speaking with Global Montreal about this incident, and the resulting news segment is below. I have also shared the extended version of my telephone interview with Global Montreal, which follows.
My complete telephone interview with Global Montreal is here:
Mr. Montreuil’s assailant, a 30 year old woman, will be criminally charged with armed assault. To date, her name has not been released.
I spoke with Mr. Montreuil by phone, and he explained that he’s deathly allergic to salicylates, which are found in some medications like Aspirin and also occur in high levels in some plants, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. His allergy is life-threatening, and he has experienced many reactions including anaphylactic shock from exposure to his allergen. Mr. Montreuil rarely eats in restaurants, and when he does go out to eat, he sticks to only a few places that have demonstrated safety in providing allergy aware orders. The cafeteria in the Jewish General Hospital was a location he trusted, and he had eaten there safely in the past.
Mr. Montreuil did everything correctly when placing his allergy aware order: He informed the person preparing his order that he has a deadly allergy to tomatoes and asked that she ensure that tomatoes do not come in contact with his order. He asked that she please put on a fresh pair of gloves, which is an important safety precaution, especially because he saw her handling tomatoes with those gloves on as she made previous orders. The food service worker seemed irritated both with the allergy aware requests and with Mr. Montreuil’s use of English, and she scowled at Mr. Montreuil and responded to him in French, when normally in a bilingual building one would respond in the language used by the customer. Mr. Montreuil emphasised that he could die since she had been handling tomatoes with those gloves, and his friend reiterated this loudly. There were 3 or 4 people in line behind him who were becoming edgy with the delay, including the woman who subsequently assaulted him.
Once Mr. Montreuil and his friend were seated, the woman walked over to his table and stated in French that in Quebec, we speak French only. Mr. Montreuil responded, and she stormed off, only to return seconds later yelling and even more agitated. Mr. Montreuil defended his right to speak the language of his choice, and she again left. Moments later, he was hit in the head with a tomato and tuna sandwich that she threw at him. He didn’t see it coming and could not move out of the way. The tomato’s juice ran through the pores of his baseball cap causing swelling, itching, and redness all over his body. Security was called, and Mr. Montreuil was taken to the emergency department for treatment for anaphylactic shock.
There is no excuse for throwing an object at someone else in anger. Allergies aside, anyone would object to having a sandwich thrown at him or her during an argument, and the person who threw it could be charged with assault for doing that. Remember when former prime minister Jean Chrétien was hit in the face with a pie by a protester in PEI in 2000? His attacker initially was given jail time but eventually received a conditional sentence.
In this case, Mr. Montreuil’s assailant knew of her victim’s life-threatening allergy (his conversation with the reluctant food service worker was quite loud and she was behind him in line), and she deliberately chose it as her weapon. The intention behind her act is horrific.
Mr. Montreuil did everything correctly that day from an allergy perspective. He chose a cafeteria carefully based on safe dining experiences he’d had there in the past. He ordered carefully and explained the simple precautions they needed to take, and he was carrying his emergency rescue medication (epinephrine). He could not and need not be prepared for having his allergen thrown at him. It’s simply a nightmare for a food allergic person to think about, and the assault has had a significant impact on him, which may be addressed through a civil lawsuit.
UPDATE 22 October 2012: Mr. Montreuil filed a complaint today with the Quality And Complaints Commissioner at Jewish General Hospital. The complaints commissioner, Rosemary Steinberg, has 45 days to respond to his complaint regarding the quality of service and the right to be served in English.
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