Quebec’s premier has changed his tune over the handling of Indigenous affairs in the province by his cabinet minister, saying he plans to be more involved in the portfolio.
François Legault openly expressed his frustration during a press conference Thursday when asked if Sylvie D’Amours was still the right person for the job.
“I’m looking at the situation,” he said.
The premier specifically pointed to the implementation of recommendations from the Viens Commission, which looked into the relationship between the province and Indigenous communities. The final report was issued one year ago, with more than 100 calls to action.
“I find that things are not moving fast enough,” he admitted.
Legault’s remarks come after he defended his government’s track record last week and D’Amours’ work in recent months.
D’Amours has been under fire for her handling of Indigenous affairs in wake of the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who was taunted by Joliette hospital staff while she pleaded for help.
Her death has sparked several investigations, including a coroner’s inquest. The treatment of Echaquan as she lay dying has also prompted questions about how Indigenous people are cared for in the province’s health network.
This week, Legault issued a formal apology to Echaquan’s family, saying that it wasn’t an isolated case of discrimination.
“I want, on behalf of the Quebec state, to offer my apologies to the family, loved ones and the community of Joyce Echaquan,” Legault said.
But her loved ones and Atikamekw leaders are demanding that the government recognize systemic racism against Indigenous people.
In an interview with Global News, Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec-Labrador, said he’s not confident in D’Amours’ ability to manage the Indigenous affairs portfolio.
“She’s not the right person,” he said. “And to me, I know she often refers to the fact that half of her staff is of Indigenous descent but what has that done for our issues?”
Picard added, however, that the premier’s direct involvement with Indigenous affairs could help get the ball rolling in the right direction.
“If the premier is serious about getting involved, I think that this would be certainly welcome news for the majority of chiefs,” he said.
—With files from The Canadian Press and Global’s Annabelle Olivier