The minister responsible for Indigenous affairs in Quebec has come under fire for lauding the government’s efforts to implement recommendations from the Viens Commission one day after the death of Joyce Echaquan — who was subjected to racist taunts by hospital staff while she lay dying — came to light.
Sylvie D’Amours issued a statement Wednesday morning, highlighting the progress made one year after the inquiry examining relations between Indigenous communities and Quebec delivered a blistering final report. The report called on the province to apologize to First Nations and Inuit peoples for systemic discrimination.
She said she was proud that 51 of the 142 calls to action have been implemented or completed to date, but stressed the novel coronavirus pandemic has prevented the government from accomplishing more.
The statement, however, did not make mention of 37-year-old Echaquan, whose death in a Joliette hospital on Monday has sparked two sweeping investigations and an outpouring of grief from across the country.
In a video posted to Facebook, the mother of seven captured the racist remarks made by two health-care employees while she was writhing in pain. Echaquan, who is from the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan, pleads for help as they tell her she is better off dead.
One of the nurses has since been fired, according to Premier François Legault. He called the incident “unacceptable,” but did not qualify the incident as “systemic” racism.
On Wednesday, Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade suggested D’Amours’ statement is insulting and indicates she’s unfit to hold the Indigenous affairs portfolio.
“I think that with the statement, she has already written her letter of resignation, to be frank,” she shot in the provincial legislature while also pointing to D’Amours’ absence.
Liberal MNA Greg Kelley said he was “ticked off” Wednesday morning after D’Amours’ statement was issued.
“I read that press release and I just said ‘Why even put that out there?'” said Kelley. “Especially in the context of what happened to Joyce.”
“It just was indecent in my opinion and it just shows the government, I think, is disconnected on this question.”
Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Massé also criticized D’Amours’ statement but stopped short of demanding she step down.
After a flurry of criticism, D’Amours issued a second statement Wednesday afternoon to offer her condolences to Echaquan’s family and community on behalf of the Quebec government.
“This tragedy in Joliette reminds us, once again, of the urgency to act,” she said in the statement.
“We never pretended to say that we would be able to change 150 years of history in one year. What has happened is unacceptable and intolerable in a society like ours in 2020.”
— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier, Tim Sargeant and The Canadian Press