Montreal, Canada – The family of an Indigenous woman in Canada who died in hospital this week after staff made racist comments against her is suing the hospital, saying Joyce Echaquan’s death is the result of systemic racism.
At a news conference on Friday afternoon, Echaquan’s partner Carol Dube said the 37-year-old died because Indigenous people are discriminated against in the Canadian province of Quebec where she lived, including in the healthcare sector.
Echaquan, a mother of seven from Atikamekw of Manawan, a First Nation community in Quebec, died on Monday after seeking treatment for stomach pain at a hospital in Joliette, about 75 kilometres (46 miles) north of Montreal.
“I don’t want her death to be in vain. How many human lives will we need to lose before we can recognise that systemic racism exists against us as Indigenous peoples?” said Dube, who repeatedly broke down in tears as he spoke to reporters.
“I am convinced that my partner died because systemic racism contaminated Joliette hospital and killed my partner.”
Translation: “I am here to get justice for Joyce, justice for my children, justice for my nation, Atikamekw.”
Echaquan posted a livestream on Facebook from the hospital on Monday night, which showed her moaning in pain and calling for help.
Hospital staff can be heard calling her a “f***ing idiot” and saying she is only good for sex. “You’ve made bad choices, my dear. What would your children think, to see you like this?” said one of the staff members.
Dube said Friday that his partner “lived her final days in agony, surrounded by contemptuous people”.
“The last words she heard before she died, from those who were supposed to protect her,” he said in French, his voice breaking. “Insults, humiliation … She died in indignity when she needed to have her entire family around her until the end.”
A nurse and a nursing support staff member involved in the incident have been fired, local media reported this week, and the local health agency and coroner’s office are launching investigations into what happened.
Jean-Francois Bertrand, the lawyer representing the family, on Friday said they are suing the hospital where Echaquan died, as well as all hospital staff members involved or complicit in her death, for damages.
The family is also filing a complaint with a provincial human rights commission and making a claim with a provincial body (IVAC) that investigates and offers compensation to victims of criminal acts, Bertrand said.
He added they also plan to appeal for a nurse involved in Echaquan’s death to be stripped of her licence and to file a request with police demanding they investigate other criminal charges that can be filed in the case.
My partner lived her final days in agony, surrounded by contemptuous people. The last words she heard before she died, from those who were supposed to protect her… Insults, humiliation
Carol Dube, partner of Joyce Echaquan
“Obviously we’re going to take all – and I’m saying all – the recourses that the law puts at our disposal to make sure that firstly all the possible light is shined on this tragic event,” Bertrand told reporters.
“We’re going to hit hard because we want to set an example … that this needs to stop.”
Dube said on Friday he hoped his family’s legal filings would not only get justice for his partner but ensure no one else suffers the same ordeal.
“She thought to film with her cell phone,” he said. “How many other similar situations are not denounced because we don’t know about them?”
Last year, a government-commissioned report found that Indigenous people faced systemic discrimination in public services across Quebec.
The Viens Commission said that extended to healthcare, where “prejudices against Indigenous peoples remain very widespread in interactions between caregivers and patients”.
On Thursday, Quebec’s health minister said he met with Paul-Emile Ottawa, chief of Atikamekw of Manawan, to discuss the commission’s recommendations as it pertains to the provincial healthcare network.
“We need to put necessary actions in place so that a situation like Joyce Echaquan’s never happens again,” Christian Dube tweeted.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault also condemned the racism Echaquan experienced as “unacceptable” and said this week he sent his condolences to her family. But he has repeatedly said systemic racism is not a problem in the province.
That has been widely rejected by Indigenous leaders, who say the problem of systemic racism has been laid out in multiple reports over the past several years.
Ottawa of Atikamekw of Manawan on Friday said Echaquan’s death has left the entire community in mourning.
“What shocks me even more is that we could have avoided this tragedy,” he told reporters.
He said Atikamekw de Manawan community members told the Viens Commission about mistreatment and racism at the Joliette hospital where Echaquan died, and that the commission made several recommendations to address those problems.
“If we had put them in action, Joyce’s death probably could have been avoided,” Ottawa said.
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