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Coroner’s inquiry into Joyce Echaquan’s death wraps up as hundreds march in Trois-Rivières

BY Ben Powless Jun 19, 2021

More than 1,000 people gathered in Trois-Rivières June 2 to remember Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw woman who died last September while enduring racist insults and negligence in a Joliette hospital. 

The demonstration came on the last day of a coroner’s inquest into Echaquan’s death. Led by Géhane Kamel, the inquest was ordered following the national attention generated by videos Echaquan posted of the abuse she faced from hospital staff the day she died. 

The crowd marched through the streets demanding “Justice for Joyce,” and calling for concrete change in how the medical system treats Indigenous people in Quebec. 

At the inquest, it was revealed that Echaquan likely died from heart failure after excess fluid accumulated in her lungs. However, doctors had misdiagnosed her as suffering from opioid withdrawal after she complained about severe stomach pain.  

Lawyers representing her community of Manawan said that systemic racism in the health care system led to numerous failures to treat Echaquan properly, saying that she would still be alive if she hadn’t been Indigenous.

Patrick Martin-Menard, a lawyer for Echaquan’s family, asked for people to remember her for more than just what happened in the video. “She was devoted to her family and had all sort of plans,” he said. “She had her life before her, and I think it’s important to see Ms. Echaquan from this vantage point and not simply as a patient.”

A lawyer for the Joliette regional health board recognized that there is bias and discrimination, conscious or unconscious, within its staff and that it is prepared to act.

Carol Dubé, Joyce’s husband, with one of their children

Kamel will issue recommendations for governments and different entities to implement to avoid similar deaths and mistreatment in the future. The inquest doesn’t seek to rule on liability but rather causes and circumstances surrounding death and ways it could be avoided. The inquest sat for 13 days between May 13 and June 2, hearing testimony from witnesses and interested parties.

Kamel said there was a duty to rewrite the story of Echaquan’s death. He also addressed Carol Dubé, Echaquan’s husband, about how to explain her death to their children: “To your children, you will have to tell them the small revolution of reconciliation started with their mother.”

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.