The Quebec Liberal Party is calling for Premier François Legault to apologize for what they say was a disrespectful display of partisan politics at a time that was supposed to be dedicated to a sombre commemoration. Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the death of Joyce Echaquan.
Echaquan died in a Quebec hospital while nurses uttered racial slurs at her. Since then, First Nations have been calling on the Quebec government to recognize systemic racism.
In June, West-Island MNA Greg Kelley made a speech during a Black Lives Matter event where he called Joyce Echaquan Quebec’s George Floyd. He criticized three government bills which he says stomp on minority rights, like its proposed French language reform, Bill 96.
During Tuesday’s question period at the National Assembly, the premier attacked Kelley and accused him of trying to divide Quebecers.
On Wednesday, Legault explained what angered him: “They are trying to put all that together, and trying to (say) Quebecers – like in the English debate, try to say that we are racists because of Bill 21 and Bill 96, and that’s in fact why this happened to Joyce Echaquan.”
However, Liberal leader Dominique Anglade said the premier did not choose his timing wisely.
“I’m asking Mr. Legault to apologize to the Atikamekw community, to the community at large, to Carol Dubé as well,” Anglade said, referring to Echaquan’s widower.
Québec Solidaire (QS) MNA Manon Massé said she found the exchange so disrespectful she stormed out of question period before the end.
“What I saw yesterday, it’s a premier who was totally, I don’t know what, destabilized,” she said.
“I was angry and I think that the Blue Room did not live up to what Joyce Echaquan deserves,” she added.
However, Legault blamed Anglade and QS co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois who asked why the government would not support Joyce’s Principle, which calls for a recognition of systemic racism.
“Instead of talking about how do we fight to make sure that what happened to Joyce Echaquan never happens again, they were asking questions about systemic racism to try to win points,” Legault told reporters Wednesday.
“What we hear from the government of Quebec is ‘We agree with Joyce’s Principle, but we don’t agree with systemic racism.’ It’s really unfair for the government of Quebec to take that position,” said Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.
“What they’re doing is they’re denying the principle itself because we look at it as a whole because it’s not a principle that you can take apart and take what pleases you. I think you take it as is,” Picard explained.
Greg Kelley declined an interview with Global News. Anglade would not confirm if what he said in his speech was the official position of the Liberal Party.
“I think those questions are legitimate and can be asked in commission,” she said, refusing to elaborate.
However, Picard said Indigenous people are not abandoning their principles, no matter what the politicians say.
“So be it. We still stay the course on Joyce’s Principle, including the reference to systemic racism,” he said.