Alex Montreuil was attacked on September 5, 2012 at the Jewish General Hospital Atrium coffee shop in Montreal, Quebec, when a woman who was arguing with him picked up a sandwich containing tomato slices and threw it onto his face. This is assault with a weapon causing bodily harm. What makes this case of particular interest to me is that she knew that Mr. Montreuil has a life threatening allergy to tomatoes, and within minutes, he experienced a serious reaction and was taken to the emergency department for treatment. Global Montreal reporter Anne Leclair interviewed Mr. Montreuil and me just after the assault, and the original story is here.
Mr. Montreuil reached out to me just after the assault, and I have been assisting him since then. We filed a complaint with the hospital Complaints Commissioner, as her mandate is to propose remedies that will ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. There were two parts to the complaint: The server’s insistence on replying to Mr. Montreuil in French although he addressed her in English and the resulting amplification which prevented him from placing his allergy order discreetly, and the server’s reluctance to change her gloves when asked to do so as an allergy precaution. The customers behind him in line heard this exchange, and his attacker was one of those customers, who was armed with the knowledge of Mr. Montreuil’s severe allergy.
I’m quite happy with the remedies the Complaints Commissioner proposed regarding allergy safety: Education seminars have been set up to educate the staff at the Jewish General Hospital Atrium coffee shop about food restrictions and precautions, the staff will change gloves automatically whenever allergy concerns are expressed, and knives and surfaces will be wiped down to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
Mr. Montreuil correctly noticed that the Commissioner’s letter states that “they [the staff who are frequently new arrivals in Quebec] are aware of and committed to their obligation to assure service both in French and in English to all customers,” then it says there is no obligation to learn English and they struggle to learn English, but do their best to communicate in both languages. It is noted that their command of a third language other than French or English is very helpful when communicating with some patients. They’re only obligated to learn French to cement their status, and no remedy for the language issue was suggested. We will take this issue to the Quebec Ombudsman for recommendations to remedy it.
Upon my recommendation, Mr. Montreuil followed up repeatedly with the police officer who took his complaint to obtain details regarding the status of the criminal charge against his attacker. Each time he called, he was only told that he’d be notified when it was time to appear in Court. As a lawyer, I found this odd, and it’s also odd that the name of the 30 year old woman who attacked him has never been revealed.
Mr. Montreuil and I were shocked when Global Montreal reporter Anne Leclair’s investigation revealed that although four months have passed, Mr. Montreuil’s police complaint has NOT been processed. Thanks to her investigation, the complaint is now being sent to the Crown to be assigned to a prosecutor. Mr. Montreuil correctly points out that had a gun been shot at his head, the charge against his attacker would have been taken more seriously, and that throwing his life-threatening allergen into his face is just as serious an assault. We will continue to monitor the status of the criminal proceedings.
Mr. Montreuil thankfully was in a hospital when this occurred, and he was whisked away for emergency treatment. Only 7% of people at risk of a severe allergic reaction bring their EpiPen with them everywhere, the only treatment there is to stop anaphylaxis. Mr. Montreuil was well prepared and had his EpiPen with him, but most people are not prepared. Because allergic reactions can happen anywhere as this episode demonstrates, I strongly recommend that epinephrine kits be installed in workplaces, schools, public buildings, restaurants, and transportation centres and that employees be trained to recognize anaphylaxis and provide anaphylaxis first aid. A growing number of people’s lives depend on it.
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