Quebec’s coroner’s office will be looking into the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman from the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan, who passed away amid troubling circumstances in a Joliette hospital on Monday.
The mother of seven went to hospital after experiencing stomach pains and died a few days later.
Before her death, Echaquan took a cellphone video from her hospital bed and livestreamed it on Facebook. In the video shared on social media, Echaquan appears to be in distress. She can be heard screaming and seems to be out of breath.
Near the end of the video, which lasts around seven minutes, hospital personnel enter the room. The staff members can be heard insulting Echaquan and making derogatory comments about her.
“I think you have trouble taking care of yourself, so we’re going to do it for you,” said one woman in French.
“Are you done messing around? You’re dumb as hell,” says another.
“You made bad choices, my dear. What do you think your children would think seeing you like this? Think of them,” the first woman can be heard saying.
“She’s only good for sex. And we’re paying for this,” adds the other.
The video has sparked outrage across Quebec.
In a statement to Global News, the regional health authority that oversees the hospital, the CISSS de Lanaudière, offered its condolences to Echaquan’s family.
“We were informed yesterday at the end of the day of the situation and if what we were told is true, it is unacceptable,” wrote CISSS spokesperson Hélène Gaboury early Tuesday afternoon.
Gaboury said an investigation is underway and the appropriate measures will be taken.
During a briefing on the province’s COVID-19 response, Quebec Premier François Legault called the situation “unacceptable” and said the nurse involved in the incident had been fired.
Ghislain Quitich, a council member of the Atikamekw band council, welcomed the news.
“It’s one of many steps required to remedy the situation,” he said from the Lanaudière Native friendship centre on Tuesday.
Legault also confirmed the two investigations underway — one by the CISSS and the other by the coroner, and while the premier admitted there is racism in Quebec, he stopped short of qualifying it as systemic.
“I really don’t think that we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec,” he said. “Yes, there is some racism in Quebec and we’re working on that.”
Legault said two of his ministers would soon be tabling recommendations on the issue of racism and we “will apply those recommendations.”
“We’ll take action to fight against racism.”
Nakuset, the executive director of Montreal’s Native Women’s shelter, agreed it is time for action.
She said the video is but one of many showing violence and racism against Indigenous people.
“We see it over and over again what happens with Indigenous people and it needs to stop,” she said.
While Nakuset hasn’t watched the video herself because of its traumatizing content, she said staff members who did were “beside themselves.”
“They don’t know how to react to this except with anger,” she said. “We need to use that anger to make change, so we want to do that in a productive way.”
To that end, a vigil is being organized in Montreal on Saturday starting at Place Emilie-Gamelin.
It will be a way to honour Echquan’s memory and to protest against what happened to her.
“She needs to be remembered as someone who was strong, as opposed to the nastiness that we saw on that video,” Nakuset said.
Family and friends are also holding a vigil in front of the Joliette hospital Tuesday evening.
–With files from The Canadian Press