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Last revised:
23 August 2000

French Canadians and Jews

The Internes’ Strike
Olivar Asselin,

Series of two editorials in L’Ordre, June 22-23 1934.
Reproduced in Pensée française. Pages choisies, Montréal, Edition Canadienne-française, 1937, pp. 185-196

"At Notre-Dame, and in all the other Catholic hospitals of Montreal that are subjected to the same hospital and administrative regime, interns, that is to say the personnel in charge of auxiliary medical services (pharmacology, ambulance, etc.) are recruited by the medical board of the institution, in conjunction with the administration, at the end of each school year. These include: 1° the students of the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal distributed between the different hospitals by the head of the Faculty to do their sixth year of study (fifth is the preparatory year is not included); 2° a certain number of doctors who have obtained their licence during the year, or in the last two or three preceding years, and who have been admitted to the practice of medicine, or will be admitted to practice in July.

At Notre-Dame hospital, the intern-doctors are divided into a group of juniors, who received their university degree this year, and seniors, who received it in the preceding years. The student-internes receive their room and board, and their uniforms, free of charge but are not otherwise paid. The intern-doctors receive the same thing plus an honorarium of $12.50 a month for the juniors and $20 a month for the seniors. These amounts used to be higher, but the economic crisis caused them to be reduced.

The date for the hiring of the internes is not announced in the same way in all the hospitals (always this is only about Catholic hospitals); some send a form letter to the young doctors that these positions might interest; in other hospitals, where the method hardly varies, no formal publicity is made, and they rely on professional and university medical contacts to make their needs known. The latter is used at Notre-Dame hospital that has always been able to obtain all its necessary candidates without having to publicise its needs. Needless to say, even in the absence of any publicity, any young doctor wishing to intern, and whose services would not be required elsewhere, would not miss the opportunity to apply at Notre-Dame. Thus, if a hospital has a shortfall of internes, after the ordinary period of hiring has come to an end, it is evidently because there are no candidates available.

On February 14 last, the medical council of Notre-Dame examined the applications for the posts of aspiring-doctors-internes for a period of one year, starting on June 15. They received applications from twelve French-Canadian candidates. On the second of March, all twelve candidates were accepted, and they were to form the medical personnel of the hospital, along with the fifth-sixth students and four doctors of the senior category. As the number of doctor-internes hired was not sufficient (in fact, there were several vacancies left), the medical council, in agreement with the board of administrators, hired as thirteenth intern a young Jewish doctor named Samuel Rabinovitch. He was finishing his internship year in Notre-Dame as a fifth-sixth student of the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal. He had graduated first of his class. Rabinovitch was hired under the same conditions as his French Canadian colleagues, and for the same period of time: one year. Rumours have circulated that he had received especially favourable treatment: these are lies.

No complaint had ever been lodged against Rabinovitch, and the heads of services have never made unfavourable notations. At the outset, his hiring did not raise objections; there were no signs of discontent. Shortly afterwards, as there were still vacancies of internes to be provided for, a young Franco-American from Chicago was also hired. Neither he, nor Rabinovitch, took the place of a French Canadian.

The intern-doctors are supposed to be hired with a formal contract. However, it sometimes happens that the administration hires somebody on a verbal understanding. For its part, the Hospital has never reneged on its obligations, except for disciplinary reasons of the highest seriousness, and for which the medical council is the only judge. It has not always been so for the internes: just recently, three of them left, with only a few days of notice, under the pretext that they were offered a better salary elsewhere. This caused difficulties to the hospital. This small money matter aside, the inauguration of the new year of service, proposed for June 15 as we have seen, was proceeding normally when, in the last days on May, the French Canadian internes, apparently under outside influences, started to show dislike toward Dr. Rabinovitch who was well known at the hospital to have been hired two and half months before. They made representations to the medical board (not to be confused with the medical council). This board is formed of all the heads of services and their assistants and has no authority in this matter. On June 12, the malcontents not having received satisfaction, and rightly so, sent a letter to the medical council. In it they demanded that Rabinovitch be fired immediately because of his nationality ("nationalité"); this was the only reason they gave. Failing to do so, they warned that on the night of June 14-15 they would go on strike. The council of the Faculty of Medicine, with the vice-rector Mgr. Piette present, assembled to study the case of the intern-students. The council warned them, and even threatened sanctions if the internes went ahead with their plans. This decision of the council was unanimous. On the night of June 14-15, and refusing to provide any emergency services, the internes, doctors and students, went on strike. Everyone knows what extension this strike has received soon after: by Monday, the strike had spread to the internes of Hôtel-Dieu, of Miséricorde, Sainte-Justine and Saint-Jean-de-Dieu hospitals. [Note from the translator: Sainte-Justine is a hospital for children; Saint-Jean-de-Dieu was a psychiatric institution].

Last Tuesday, following an invitation on our part that we extended to doctor Bélisle of Notre-Dame, three delegates of the strikers, Dr. Bélisle himself, and his colleagues, doctors Dumas and Cartier, each representing three different hospitals to our knowledge (but this detail is not important), came to us to explain their cause, in the name of the strikers. These gentlemen did not wish to admit that racial hatred was at the basis of their actions. They contended having only wished to defend French Canadian doctors against eventual competition. This apparently is already the case in an establishment called "Clinique Sainte-Thérèse". A Jewish doctor who also had done his internship in another Catholic hospital established it in a French Canadian neighbourhood. They added, and this somewhat contradicts their avowed absence of prejudice, that Catholic patients found it repugnant to be treated by a Jewish doctor and that, as for themselves, they did not wish to live a whole year with a Jew. The competition argument is worth what it is worth, and we do not wish to discuss it further. The protesters admit they did not take any steps to make known to the council of the College of Physicians the exploitation of religious beliefs they blame the Jewish doctor for. As for the argument of racial dislike, it falls on its own, as Dr. Rabinovitch has already spent one year as an intern-student at Notre-Dame without raising any problem. In truth, as over thirty people, students and doctors, are involved in the internship, the hiring of Dr. Rabinovitch could not change noticeably the character of the institution. Thus, the internes’ strike could only have one reason: racial hatred.

As well, as Notre-Dame treats all of the sick and wounded without making distinctions based on race and religion, it also does not make a distinction between Catholic and Jewish money. The liquidation of the legacy of Mortimer Davis has been put off by court wrangling up to now. However, on the day when the sum of $100,000 donated by this Jew to Notre-Dame will be paid, the direction of the hospital will have no difficulties in accepting it. When that dirty Gobeil, (who inspired him one wonders?) slandered the moral leadership of the Université de Montréal in an Anglo-Saxon parliament, there were no stronger protestations than those of the two Jewish members of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec, MM. Cohen and Bercovitch [note from the translator: this is an allusion to a speech made earlier in the year in the Canadian Parliament by Sam Gobeil, member for Compton in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. In his speech, Gobeil had accused the Université de Montréal to be a hotbed of atheism, in part because it received "foreign" students. This attack was perceived as an affront by the university and created quite a stir in Quebec at the time.]. One or two years ago, a French-Canadian doctor connected to Notre-Dame, Dr. Gariepy, wished to specialise in the treatment of diabetes. As a favour, he was admitted to the clinic of Dr. Rabinovitch (a close relative to the Notre-Dame intern) at the General-Hospital. For eight months, he benefited from the teaching of this mentor who is universally recognised as an authority on this subject. The Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal, where all of the internes, students or doctors, of Notre-Dame come from receives annually a grant of $25,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation. There is also a conditional promise of a $1,000,000 donation. The medical council of the Rockefeller Foundation is presided by a Jew, Dr. Flaxner. Among the board of the governors of Notre-Dame, a Jewish merchant is found. M. Lyon Cohen has always been most generous toward French Canadian charitable works. Thus the hospital had perfectly good reasons not to refuse the services, virtually free, of Dr. Rabinovitch.

Even supposing that the presence of Dr. Rabinovitch, not to a position of power, as some of the professional patriotic rogues have contended, but to the modest functions of an auxiliary doctor, thus a servant, affected the moral character of the hospital, the opening soon of a Jewish hospital, the protestations of the internes against the hiring of a Jewish doctor, would no doubt have been sufficient to re-establish the exclusively Catholic and French character of its personnel within one year. In any case, the simple supposition that a medical council in charge of an institution of this magnitude, and comprising Dr. Bourgeois and Dr. Albert Lesage, as well as other practitioners and academics of a similar ilk, could betray French Canadian interests is absurd and makes us shrug our shoulders.

The French Canadian internes of Notre-Dame took no account of all these facts. From the first, they steadfastly demanded the repudiation of the contract existing between the hospital and the Jewish intern; they set aside all considerations of professional duty to the sick; they failed to recognise the duty connected to their oath.

It is with this in mind that Dr. Rabinovitch sent to the hospital the letter of resignation we quoted on Tuesday. This letter would be a great lesson in professional honour to his former French Canadian colleagues if envy and religious fanaticism was not in the process of choking such sentiments with our medical youth. As will be recalled, this letter, written in English, went as follows:

[Note from the translator: the letter is reproduced elsewhere on the site].

In an article reproduced and commented upon by M. Georges Langlois, the director of l’Action Catholique, M. Eugène l’Heureux wrote:

"From primary school to university, professors and teachers should apply themselves in forming French Canadian citizens, as well as good Christians, heads of families and professionals. Indeed, it is upon educators that society must rely upon far more to correct the numerous national deficiencies that one and three quarter centuries of English domination, American proximity and, especially, twenty-five years of industrialisation have brought us and which have left us without national direction."

Under multiple influences, the most important of which would probably be ashamed to play their part publicly, and which were at play in the adventure of the wily spiritual sons of the Jesuits, the Jeune-Canada movement (who inspired the internes’ strike), a significant portion of our youth has started to mix up patriotism and anti-Semitism. All enlightened French Canadians who have at heart the honour and the dignity of our people will recognise that it is not with shameful exploits, such as the internes’ strike, that we will remedy the multiple "national deficiencies" admitted by M. L’Heureux.

It is sad to admit but, in this affair, the only intern of Notre-Dame, L’Hôtel-Dieu, Sainte-Justine, Miséricorde or of Saint-Jean-de-Dieu who conducted himself, I would not say like a Christian by in a civilised manner, was Dr. Rabinovitch. And it is not the less than glorious attitude taken by the authorities of the hospital, and by the Faculty of Medicine, towards the guilty, that will wipe away the shame that befall on the French-Canadian people.

* * * * * * * *

We stated yesterday that our people are starting to mix up patriotism and anti-Semitism. This confusion is the result of our economic inferiority. Nobody is researching the true causes of this state, and consequently the ignorant charlatans of the St.-Jean-Baptiste types explain this in their own way. The fusion of patriotism and anti-Semitism is for French Canadian society a danger that much greater because, from time immemorial, we have been taught to confuse equally two completely different things: nationality and religion. Yet, we have blamed Jews for the same thing. Already before the internes’ strike had started, the Voyageurs de Commerce Catholiques, important sections of the Association Catholique de la Jeunesse, various sections of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, associated themselves with the ultimatum of the internes. The secretary of Notre-Dame, M. Laporte, the president of the medical council, Dr. Albert Lévesque, and several other representatives in authority, received from all sides arrogant, even crude, phone calls demanding that they explain imaginary facts which cast Dr. Rabinovitch under an odious light and who threatened to boycott Hôpital Notre-Dame in Montreal and throughout the province. Le Devoir, without openly taking sides (one must show respect for Jewish announcers) has consciously applied itself to excite popular passions by propagating the malicious inventions that we have alluded to (the paper has gone as far as to propagate that Dr. Rabinovitch demanded in compensation that he be given a bursary to study in Europe). On Tuesday, the paper wrote:

"Among the societies that protested the granting of the contract by the hospital to M. Rabinovitch one finds the following names:l’Ordre des Canadiens de naissance, l’Association catholique des Voyageurs de Commerce, many sections of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste society, the Chevaliers de Carillon, the Épiciers-Bouchers (Note from l’Ordre: ‘Catholic’ no doubt?), the Feuille d’Érable rouge (through its representative, M. Pelletier) and many others."

There was evidently a directive, and the chaplain of the Association Catholique des Commis-Voyageurs could perhaps tell us the origin of it.

Faced with this concert of falsehoods, recriminations and threats, the authorities of the hospital panicked. Interest, and honour, demanded that the hospital hold steadfast against the mob and to make the truth known to the press (all of which was on its side, except Le Devoir) and radio. Unskilled at this sort of struggle, sold out from the inside by some heads of services who aspired to find a place on the medical council, and whose actions aimed at destroying lay authority at the hospital and at the Université de Montréal (this will lead to some ‘dégobeillage’ eventually) the hospital thought that the situation was saved when it accepted the resignation of Dr. Rabinovitch and a trifling apology from the strikers. We regret it for the hospital; the hospital was wrong. Indeed, the hospital needs the unanimous support of Catholics, and the first reason for its existence is to serve them. However, even if the hospital was to consider only material aspects, there are certain facts that it should not forget. Not a year passes that one of the Montreal hospitals, Notre-Dame, Ste-Justine, la Miséricorde or Saint-Jean-de-Dieu needs a government or municipal grant: yet, neither the coffers of the Province, or of the City, are any more Catholic than Protestant and, perhaps, the public authorities will wonder what animates these institutions before giving them money: Christian charity or sectarianism. Because everyone supported their opportune campaign against blasphemy, the grotesque "Catholic" travelling salesmen are transforming themselves in wild-eyed fanatics who threaten the most elementary freedom of lay people on social matters. If the leadership of Notre-Dame considers it necessary to give-in to blackmail, it will soon realise that among the Catholic population of Quebec there exists a numerous clientele, and not among the poorest, who having to choose between several hospitals would prefer to be cared for in a hospital where the sick do not receive their care from young "patriots" closed to all sentiments of duty, professional honour, indeed simple honesty. For our part, we will remember, from time to time, that the leadership of the hospital failed in its duty, despite its noble words, by taking back internes who, if we did not live in a country where "patriotism" is an excuse for all abuse of authority, should have been liable to criminal prosecution.

From the medical point of view, the sixteen or seventeen student-internes from Notre-Dame are still under the authority of the Faculty of Medicine. There are presently so many unemployed among doctors that the Faculty could, without inconvenience to the public, have made an example of these young gentlemen, and beg that they pursue their studies elsewhere. No sanctions are planned there either.

Lastly, it also does not appear that the College of Doctors and Surgeons has been informed officially of the professional fault of these gentlemen; yet, the striking doctors of Notre-Dame, l’Hôtel-Dieu, la Miséricorde, Sainte-Justine and St.-Jean-de-Dieu will all seek permission to practice medicine next July. We would not be the least bit surprised if the College congratulated the strikers and encouraged them to do it again as the complete degradation of our liberal professions demands that "patriotism" be carried to the end. Rightly so, English Canada is proud of the discoveries of Banting, Collip and many others, among whom are Jews: as for us, lying in ambush behind a row of sick people, as the hero of Chateauguay once did from behind his barricade of logs, we have won the memorable battle of 1934 against Dr. Rabinovitch, graduate with great distinction of the Université de Montréal.

This remarkable achievement will ring throughout the four corners of French Canada - at least throughout the province of Quebec - for the three days of the St-Jean-Baptiste celebrations. And our people can tell itself that if, thanks to Madame Dionne, it can send procreators of the race like Mr. Dionne to international exhibitions, it is not as if it could not also have as well - the morality of the striking internes demonstrates it - anticonceptionists and abortionists.

© 1999 For the translation, Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College