MONTREAL -- A Quebec man says he believes child protection authorities apprehended his three-day-old baby because his wife wears a hijab and doesn't speak French.

The father, whom The Canadian Press is not naming to protect the identity of the child, said that on Wednesday, youth protection agents at the Ste-Croix hospital in Drummondville, Que., about 100 kilometres northeast of Montreal, told him and his wife to leave without their baby.

He said when they refused, officials called police.

"They said that the nurses reported that we were not co-operating with them and that sometimes we refused treatment for the baby," he said in an interview Thursday.

The father admits he and his wife refused some blood tests that medical staff wanted to conduct on the baby. He said several blood tests had already been done on his child and he refused tests for genetic and hereditary diseases.

"When they took the baby's blood, he started to cry and he was really uncomfortable," he said. "They told us we had the right to refuse."

The father said child protection authorities said they had received a report that the mother had shaken the baby and was not waking up at night to feed the child -- accusations he denies. "It's false, there's nothing accurate in the reasons they gave for apprehending the child," he said. "She never hurt her baby."

He said he believes staff at the hospital were prejudiced against his wife because she wears a hijab and found her unco-operative because she doesn't speak French. "She speaks English but the nurses here in Drummondville, they just speak French," he said.

The father said his wife had received poor service from the hospital since she became pregnant. He added that a gynecologist who initially treated his wife told her multiple times the baby would be taken from her once it was born.

"The fact that we're from an ethnic community, my wife wears the hijab, she's a Muslim, there was prejudgment, and there was racism in that -- I don't have any doubt of it," he said.

"It's part of the racism here in Quebec," he said, adding that he's also faced discrimination since he immigrated to the province about a decade ago.

He said the discrimination he believes he and his wife faced at the hospital is related to systemic racism in Quebec. Women who wear veils for religious reasons, he added, are looked upon poorly in the province and face prejudice. The father said the situation has left him devastated and he has no doubt anti-Muslim prejudice played a role in the way his family was treated.

The regional health and social services board in Mauricie and Centre-du-Quebec, which oversees the hospital and the local youth protection agency, refused to comment on the case, citing confidentiality reasons.

"No act of racism or discrimination is tolerated in our facilities," Julie Michaud, a spokeswoman for the regional health board, wrote in an email. "It is our duty to treat users with dignity, respect and openness while showing empathy … we encourage and support the denunciation of behaviours that could undermine the identity or the dignity of users or anyone else who interacts with our organization."

The father said he's looking for a lawyer and that he and his wife have a court date on Monday, during which they will try to get their child back.

"He needs his mother, he needs the milk of his mother," he said. "It's not the Quebec we dreamt of immigrating to, it's not the Quebec we want to see for our children."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.