Quebec Indigenous affairs minister defends track record amid criticism from opposition

Quebec Natives Affairs Minister Sylvie D'Amours responds to a reporter's questions at the beginning of a meeting with the Quebec government as a follow up to the Viens Report, Thursday, October 17, 2019 in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s minister responsible for Indigenous affairs clapped back Thursday amid calls for her dismissal and questions about her mandate from opposition parties in wake of the death of Joyce Echaquan and nearly one year after the Viens Commission wrapped up.

Sylvie D’Amours defended her government’s track record on Indigenous issues in the provincial legislature while responding to criticism from the Liberals, who say she is no longer fit to hold the portfolio.

“I want to reassure you, I have done more in two years than 15 years in the Liberal Party,” she said.

She was speaking to Liberal MNA Greg Kelley, whose father held the same portfolio while he was in office. Kelley, for his part, responded that his father was always present on the ground alongside Indigenous people unlike D’Amours.

READ MORE: Quebec Indigenous affairs minister unfit for portfolio, opposition claims

The criticism comes after D’Amours lauded her party’s progress and implementation of recommendations from the inquiry looking at Quebec’s relations with Indigenous peoples one year after the commissions’ final report came out.

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Her statement issued Wednesday came one day after the province learned of the death of Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who was subjected to racial slurs from staff while she was seeking treatment at a hospital. The mother of seven took video from her hospital bed capturing the remarks before she died.

D’Amours’ initial statement made no mention of Echaquan but a statement issued later in the day offered condolences to her family. Liberal Party Dominique Anglade argued D’Amours is not fit to continue in her role, saying the original statement was an insult to Indigenous communities.

READ MORE: Treatment of dying Indigenous woman in Quebec hospital sparks outrage

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, for his part, spoke of the progress his government has made for Indigenous people Thursday but said that the death of Echaquan shows more work needs to be done.

“What happened in Joliette shows us that there is an urgent need to act to fight against discrimination, in particular against Indigenous peoples,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Fighting discrimination in Quebec’s healthcare system'
Fighting discrimination in Quebec’s healthcare system

The Viens report had 142 calls to action and D’Amours says the province has made progress or implemented 51 of them.

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However, Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon pointed to how the report specifically outlines that Indigenous people in Quebec feel unsafe seeking medical treatment in the province’s health-care system. It proposed legislative changes to incorporate cultural safeguard principles.

She says that recommendation has been in D’Amours’ hands for a year, and she slept on it.

“It is inconceivable,” she said. “It should have been a priority to act on.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

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