Quebec Premier François Legault has made a public apology to the family of Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw woman who died in a Joliette hospital last week.
Speaking at the National Assembly on Tuesday, following a moment of silence, Legault said he is committed to making changes in the province to avoid another tragedy like the one that befell Echaquan.
“We must not be afraid to say it; the Quebec public service has failed in its duty to Madame Echaquan,” Legault said.
Echaquan, a 37-year-old woman from Manawan, died shortly after filming staff insulting her in a video she shared on Facebook live.
Hospital staff are heard making degrading comments, including calling her stupid and saying she would be better off dead.
Legault has insisted systemic racism does not exist in Quebec, but in his remarks on Tuesday he admitted there was a problem across many public institutions in the province, including the judicial system and law enforcement.
But he said “it’s not the time” for divisions over the term, and that “we need to fight against racism.”
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Another apology, a year ago
The apology comes just over a year after Legault issued another apology to Indigenous people following the release of the final report from the Viens Commission.
The report concluded Indigenous people were the subject of “systemic discrimination” in Quebec.
“I offer Quebec’s First Nations and Inuit people the most sincere apology from the entire state of Quebec,” Legault said on Oct. 2, 2019.
“The state of Quebec has failed in its duty to you.”
Those words were seen as a hopeful sign the government was committed to addressing the issues laid out in the report, which included 142 recommendations.
But Indigenous leaders and advocates say not enough has been done in the year since, and that Echaquan’s death is another reminder of the challenges Indigenous people face in getting public services.
Legault met with Atikamekw leaders on Monday, who left the meeting cautiously optimistic the provincial government would address their call to action.
“We had a debate about it and we didn’t agree, but I think we speak the same language, just differently,” said Constant Awashish, grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation.
Quebec’s coroner’s office has launched a public inquiry into the circumstances leading to Echaquan’s death on Sept. 28. A nurse and an orderly at the hospital have been fired.
Echaquan’s funeral was held Tuesday in Manawan.
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