The death of Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman, is raising outrage against systemic racism in Canada after a video of healthcare workers subjecting her to racially-motivated verbal abuse surfaced on social media.
On Saturday, protestors in Montreal marched to demand justice for Joyce Echaquan's death. Christinne Muschi/Reuters
Two days prior to her death, Joyce Echaquan was admitted to the Centre Hospitalier De Lanaudière for stomach pains. According to her cousin, Sebastien Moar, Echaquan suffered from several health conditions and failed to receive adequate care during previous experiences at the hospital.
"She always said, at the hospital, they never did anything. They just made sure she wasn't hurting. She always had appointments and she said the nurses seemed fed up with her," - Sebastien Moar
Driven by concerns about the treatment of Indigenous people, Echaquan began filming an interaction with hospital staff. The live-stream, posted shortly before Echaquan's death, depicts healthcare workers insulting the 37-year-old mother of seven. Echaquan's Facebook Live footage - which could be disturbing to certain viewers - was shared by Journal Metro.
In the video, Echaquan can be seen grimacing from her hospital bed as nurses call her "stupid as hell." One nurse, according to The Guardian's translation, is recorded saying "Are you done acting stupid? Are you done?" "You made some bad choices, my dear," another nurse said, "What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?"
Carol Dubé, Echaquan's husband, believed the nurses meant to humiliate his wife. Seeing as she was from the Atikamekw community of Manawan, Dube and several others suspect that Echaquan's treatment by the healthcare workers was rooted in racism.
"She heard the most degrading comments, and this shows just once again just how differently we are treated as Indigenous people," - Carol Dubé, sobbing as he spoke to reporters.
Carol Dubé, seen above, says his wife was a kind, generous person who paid attention to the littlest of things. Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
One nurse and one patient attendant at the CISSS have been fired. Additionally, the Quebec coroner's office has launched a confidential investigation into the circumstances of Echaquan's death. The regional health board, as well, is conducting two separate investigations.
Echaquan's death has generated increased pressure on Quebec's government to address systematic racism. The Native Women's Association of Canada, for example, released a statement condemning the nurses' actions. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, echoed their sentiment, claiming their behavior is "simply unacceptable in Canada."
“A rapid investigation is essential to establish if it was more than just simple racist words. We urge Quebec to take quick action and we will do our utmost to eliminate racism where it exists and to support people who are affected.” - Justin Trudeau
On Friday, members of Echaquan's family announced their decision to take legal action. In order to ensure such a tragedy never happens again, they'll be suing the Centre Hospitalier De Lanaudière. Additionally, Echaquan's family has filed complaints with the human rights commission and the Quebec order of nurses.
Lawyer Jean-François Bertrand spoke with reporters at the Lanaudière Native Friendship Centre. “We’re obviously talking about both employees that we heard on the Facebook Live, but there were other people who are just as complicit by their silence,” he said. “This person is not worthy of practicing the nursing profession… and we won’t be content with a simple firing,” Bertrand added.
Without a doubt, Echaquan's death has been deeply tragic. On social media, many have remarked that had she not filmed the incident, we would've been completely unaware of the nurses' actions. "If Joyce Echaquan had not pressed record, we’d never know these racist insults would be the last she heard while dying," wrote Nahanni Fontaine, a Canadian politician.
"I’m sorry beautiful sister you weren’t shown compassion, care and love by the very people you went to for help. You deserved better." - Nahanni Fontaine