Family of Joyce Echaquan says they’re planning legal action over her death in Quebec hospital

Canada World

The family of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw mother of seven who died in a Joliette, Que., hospital Monday, is planning to take its fight for justice to the courts.

In her final moments, Echaquan, who was from the Atikamekw community of Manawan, about 250 kilometres north of Montreal, broadcast a video on Facebook in which health-care workers were heard hurling insults at her.    

A nurse and an orderly have since been fired, and three investigations have been launched.

Echaquan’s death has generated widespread outrage and led to increased pressure on the Quebec government to address the kind of treatment laid bare in the disturbing video. 

In a news release, the family said taking legal action will deter others from committing acts of discrimination and violence toward Indigenous people. The statement does not specify what legal action they plan to pursue.

“In 2020, a simple denunciation of systemic racism is not enough,” Bertrand said in the statement. 

Meeting with premier cancelled

Quebec Premier François Legault was set to meet Friday morning with Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, to discuss Echaquan’s death and concerns of systemic racism in the province. 

But Picard cancelled the meeting, and the two have since traded words over the reasons why.

Picard later said he was still willing to engage with the government “in the most favourable way, with the right conditions, which were not there this morning.”

But he said it is urgent that Legault and his minister of Indigenous affairs, Sylvie D’Amours, address the recommendations included in the Viens report.

The findings included in the provincial inquiry, made public a year ago, found it is “impossible to deny” Indigenous people in Quebec are victims of systemic discrimination in accessing public services, including health-care services.

Echaquan’s death has led to renewed calls for the Quebec government to acknowledge systemic racism is a problem in the province. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

One of the 142 calls to action was to ensure Indigenous people feel culturally safe when accessing public services. That is even more crucial when someone is in need of medical care, Picard said.

Legault said he, too, was willing to meet with Indigenous leaders to take the necessary steps. 

The premier has repeatedly denied the existence of systemic racism in Quebec, but said his government is committed to making changes in the wake of Echaquan’s death.

“When we talk about systemic racism, for me it’s in relation with the Black people in the United States. For me I don’t see that in Quebec. But there is for sure some racism against the First Nations in Quebec, and I want to fight it,” he said Friday.

Echaquan’s death is the subject of a coroner’s inquest, as well as two investigations by the local health authority. Quebec provincial police have said they will assist with the inquest.

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