September 28 marked the anniversary of Joyce Echaquan’s tragic death at a Joliette hospital. Many of us were outraged at the FaceTime video of her last hours and the vile racism she endured from hospital staff as she begged for help. Instead of being provided life-saving medical care, she was mocked, insulted and taunted.
Unlike many Canadians, however, Indigenous people weren’t shocked by the incident. Too many of us have experienced this treatment or know someone who has.
In several parts of the province, vigils were held to remind us of this deadly systemic racism that exists in Quebec’s public services – something the Legault government still stubbornly denies. In Montreal, the event took place at Place Émilie-Gamelin, where several hundred people showed up to mourn Echaquan and demand that Quebec face up to and deal with this racism.
With a perfect sense of timing earlier in the day, the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec suspended the nursing licence of Paule Rocray, who had already been fired from the hospital over her role in the incident.
At the gathering, Atikamekw Grand Chief Constant Awashish said, “It’s been a trying day for everyone – the family, the community and myself.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante joined the vigil though she did not speak publicly.
Echaquan’s husband, Carol Dubé, spoke only in Atikamekw while holding a feather. Recently appointed Senator Michèle Audette, the former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said that we must make sure this never happens again.
Atikamekw men drummed and sang traditional songs between the speeches.
At another vigil, the Chief of Echaquan’s home community of Manawan, Paul-Émile Ottawa, said the Quebec government has a “duty” to acknowledge systemic racism. Its failure to do so “represents a great pain and adds greatly to the pain experienced by Joyce’s family and loved ones.”
Premier François Legault should hear the message and the pain. And make a commitment to change.