Quebec faces pressure to act against anti-Indigenous racism after Joyce Echaquan’s death

Pressure is mounting on the Quebec government to address the racism evidenced in a disturbing video Joyce Echaquan recorded just before dying in a Joliette hospital, but Indigenous leaders say the provincial minister handling the file is missing in action.

Sylvie D’Amours, the provincial minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, has faced repeated criticism for her inaction since the Viens report, which documented discrimination Indigenous people face when receiving public services, was made public a year ago.

Echaquan, a mother of seven from the Atikamekw community of Manawan, died on Monday. The minister has yet to answer questions publicly and has held no media availability.

Several Indigenous leaders contacted by CBC News, including Constant Awashish, Grand Chief of the Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw, said they had not heard from D’Amours since Echaquan’s death.

An orderly who was attending to Echaquan was fired on Thursday, the second health-care worker to be dismissed since the video surfaced. A nurse was fired on Tuesday.

Echaquan’s death is the subject of three investigations: two by the local health authority and a coroner’s inquest.

Quebec Premier François Legault did say Thursday he had been in touch with Echaquan’s partner, Carol Dubé, the father of their seven children, and had expressed his condolences.

WATCH | Carol Dubé, Joyce Echaquan’s partner, calls for change:

Carol Dubé pleads for accountability after his wife’s death in troubling circumstances. 0:55

Pandemic has slowed progress, Legault says

Legault said Dubé wants to make sure something like this never happens again. On that front, Legault said, his government is making progress.

But he said the pandemic delayed the government’s ability to act on the recommendations in the Viens report.

“It’s not that easy. We first want to have an agreement with the First Nations because they don’t want us to apply recommendations without their consent, so it wasn’t possible in the past seven months to continue having those meetings,” he said.

Echaquan’s death has prompted outcry far beyond the borders of her home community of Manawan, and has become the focus of opposition politicians in Quebec City.

One of Joyce Echaquan’s children attended the vigil earlier this week near the Joliette hospital where her mother died. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade has called on D’Amours to resign, while Québec Solidaire tabled a motion calling on the province to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one of the key recommendations in the Viens report.

Veronique Hivon, a Parti Quebecois MNA representing Joliette, said she is hopeful Echaquan’s death will lead to swift change.

She wants the government to follow through on recommendations in the Viens report that might have helped Echaquan, including ensuring health authorities “set up services and programs based on cultural safeguard principles developed for Indigenous peoples and in co-operation with them.”

“I think today it’s really important to send a signal that actions must be taken,” she said.

Jennifer Brazeau, the executive director of the Native Friendship Centre in Lanaudière, said she has heard dozens of stories of wrongdoing by medical staff in Joliette. She said Indigenous people living elsewhere have similar stories.

“As an Indigenous person, you often feel that you’re not going to be believed or that people are looking to see what your fault is in this,” she said.

In a statement earlier this week, D’Amours condemned racism against Indigenous people and said she has a plan in place to follow through on 51 of the 142 calls to action in the Viens report.

Legault, for his part, said his government’s action plan on racism will be tabled in the coming weeks, and said his government will act on those recommendations.

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