Family of Joyce Echaquan says they’re planning legal action over her death in Quebec hospital

The family of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw mother of seven who died in a Joliette, Que., hospital Monday, is planning to take its fight for justice to the courts.

In her final moments, Echaquan, who was from the Atikamekw community of Manawan, about 250 kilometres north of Montreal, broadcast a video on Facebook in which health-care workers are heard hurling insults at her.    

A nurse and an orderly have since been fired, and three investigations have been launched.

Echaquan’s death has generated widespread outrage and led to increased pressure on the Quebec government to address the kind of treatment laid bare in the disturbing video. 

Her family, along with Manawan Chief Paul-Émile Ottawa and lawyer Jean-François Bertrand, is set to hold a news conference Friday at 3 p.m. 

In a news release, the family said taking legal action will deter others from committing acts of discrimination and violence toward Indigenous people. The statement does not specify what legal action they plan to pursue.

“In 2020, a simple denunciation of systemic racism is not enough,” Bertrand said in the statement. 

Quebec Premier François Legault was set to meet this morning with Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, to discuss Echaquan’s death and concerns of systemic racism in the province. 

But Picard abruptly cancelled the meeting.

The Viens report, the findings of a provincial inquiry made public a year ago, found it is “impossible to deny” Indigenous people in Quebec are victims of systemic discrimination in accessing public services, including health-care services.

Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, added her voice Friday to those denouncing the incident.

“What happened to Joyce Echaquan is graphic proof that systemic racism against Indigenous peoples is real and its impacts are devastating,” she said in a statement.

Landry called on leaders across the country to implement the recommendations of the Viens Commission, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 

Joyce Echaquan’s death has led to renewed calls for the Quebec government to acknowledge systemic racism is a problem in the province. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Earlier this week, Legault once again denied the existence of systemic racism in Quebec, but said Echaquan’s death was “not acceptable” and that more would be done to ensure Indigenous people don’t face discrimination in accessing health services. 

Echaquan’s death is the subject of a coroner’s inquest, as well as two investigations by the local health authority. Quebec provincial police have said they will assist with the inquest.