Canada: Indigenous woman’s death spurs growing calls for action
Joyce Echaquan, a Atikamekw mother of seven, died in hospital north of Montreal after staff hurled racist taunts at her.
Officials in the Canadian province of Quebec are under increasing pressure to address systemic racism after a shocking video posted on social media this week showed hospital staff in the Canadian province making racist comments about a dying Indigenous woman in their care.
A vigil was held Thursday evening on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the capital, where dozens of protesters demanded justice and accountability for the death of Joyce Echaquan.
Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven from the Atikamekw of Manawan, a First Nation community in Quebec, died on Monday after seeking treatment for stomach pain at a hospital in Joliette, about 75 kilometres (46 miles) north of Montreal.
Echaquan filmed her treatment at the hospital and shared it on social media, prompting widespread outrage and condemnation from Indigenous leaders across Canada, as well as politicians and human rights defenders.
— Bill Namagoose (@billnama) October 1, 2020
In the video posted on Facebook, Echaquan is moaning in pain and calls for help.
Hospital staff then can be heard calling the mother of seven a “f***ing idiot” and saying that she is only good for sex. “You’ve made bad choices, my dear. What would your children think, to see you like this?” one of the staff members said.
Two hospital staff involved in the incident have been fired, Montreal newspaper La Presse reported on Thursday, and the local health agency and coroner’s office are conducting investigations into what happened.
But Indigenous leaders in Quebec and across Canada have demanded concrete action to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place again.
“It’s unfortunate that in 2020 this type of behaviour can still occur,” Constant Awashish, grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation said in a statement this week. “How many tragedies and injustices must Indigenous peoples in Quebec live through before feeling safe in the face of the state?”
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube tweeted on Thursday that he met with Paul-Emile Ottawa, chief of the Atikamekw of Manawan community, alongside his colleague Sylvie D’Amours, Quebec’s minister responsible for Indigenous affairs.
“We need to put necessary actions in place so that a situation like Joyce Echaquan’s never happens again,” Dube wrote in French.
Last year, a government-commissioned report found that Indigenous peoples faced systemic discrimination in public services across Quebec.
It's unfortunate that in 2020 this type of behaviour can still occur. How many tragedies and injustices must Indigenous peoples in Quebec live through before feeling safe in the face of the state?
The Viens Commission said that extended to healthcare, where “prejudices against Indigenous peoples remain very widespread in interactions between caregivers and patients”.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has condemned the racism Echaquan experienced as “unacceptable” and sent his condolences to her family, but he stopped short of saying what happened was evidence of systemic racism.
“I really don’t think that we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nation people in our hospitals in Quebec. Yes, there is some racism in Quebec. We’re working on that,” Legault told reporters on Tuesday.
A rally was held Tuesday outside of the hospital where Echaquan died, as protesters called on the Quebec government implement the Viens Commission’s recommendations.
Another demonstration demanding justice for Echaquan and her family is planned for Saturday in Montreal.