Family of Joyce Echaquan planning legal action over her death in Quebec hospital

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, broadcast a video on Facebook in which health-care workers are 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. 

Her family, along with Manawan Chief Paul-Émile Ottawa and lawyer Jean-François Bertrand, is set to hold a news conference Friday at 3 p.m. 

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 abruptly cancelled the meeting.

“I didn’t have what I considered as the minimum condition to be there,” Picard told CBC News.

“I am available to meet with the chiefs of the Atikamekw nation. The door to my office remains open,” Legault tweeted after the meeting was cancelled.

Picard 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.

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.

Debate over systemic racism drags on

Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, added her voice Friday to those denouncing the incident.

“What happened to Joyce Echaquan is graphic proof that systemic racism against Indigenous peoples is real and its impacts are devastating,” she said in a statement.


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