Family of Atikamekw woman who died in hospital after being taunted to file series of complaints

A lawyer representing the family of the Atikamekw woman who died at the Joliette Hospital after being mocked and verbally assaulted by staff announced on Friday his intention to file several complaints. 

Joyce Echaquan's family as well as Manawan Chief Paul-Emile Ottawa and other members of the Atikamekw community spoke with the media on Friday at the Lanaudiere Native Friendship Centre following Echaquan's death on Sept. 28.

"I'm here today to reclaim justice. I am here for my wife Joyce Echaquan and her seven children," said her spouse Carol Dube. "I don't want her death to be for nothing."

Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven, went to the hospital complaining of stomach pains over the weekend. A self-filmed video surfaced on social media showing a deeply distressed Echaquan and racist hospital staff who accused her of fooling around and called her stupid. Echaquan's family says she was having a bad reaction to morphine.

Two people thus far have been fired at the hospital.

Dube made his remarks through tears. 

“How many other similar situations are not denounced because we don’t know they’re happening?" he said. 

"This is exactly why I became a lawyer," said Jean-Francois Bertrand, who is representing Echaquan's family. "To repair injustices." 

The family is searching for "a fair and appropriate redress in addition to ensuring that such discriminatory and repeated acts of inconceivable violence against native people finally ceases," Bertrand said in an earlier press release. 

Specifically, the plan is to file a series of complaints -- to the Indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels, the Quebec human rights commission, the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec -- so the nurse who uttered the racist remarks can no longer practice -- and to police authorities in the goal of opening a police investigation. 

Bertrand said action will also be taken against hospital staff who were present while Echaquan was filming the video, but didn't say anything. 

“They saw what was happening and they didn’t intervene, and those people are just as responsible as the ones talking in the video," he said. 

Bertrand wants Premier Francois Legault “To tell us, as soon as possible, which actions he intends to take,” he said. “Don’t make promises. Act.”

"In 2020, simply denouncing systemic racism is insufficient. One year after the filing of the Report of the Viens Commission, the sad story of Ms. Echaquan shows once again that nothing has changed, Indigenous people are victims of unjustified prejudice and discrimination. Times must change," added Bertrand.

Chief Ottawa also called Friday for Legault to take immediate measures to make sure what happened to Echaquan doesn't occur again. He said in a statement he wants a nation-to-nation meeting with the premier.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, cancelled a Friday morning meeting he had scheduled with Legault.

The premier confirmed the cancellation on Twitter, calling Picard's decision unfortunate.

"I am also available to meet with the chiefs of the Atikamekw Nation," he tweeted. "The door to my office remains open."

Malheureusement, le chef de l’Assemblée des Premières Nations Québec-Labrador, Ghislain Picard, vient d’annuler la rencontre prévue avec moi à 10h ce matin.
Je suis aussi disponible pour rencontrer les chefs de la nation Atikamekw.
La porte de mon bureau reste ouverte.

— François Legault (@francoislegault) October 2, 2020

Echaquan's death has sparked vigils, criticism and multiple calls to action. 

“People want this to change, they no longer accept racism faced by First Nations," Ottawa said. “We have lived through lots of trauma through the course of our history and we have surmounted it... This reaction gives us hope.”

Legault has stood behind his Minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs Sylvie D'Amours despite calls for her resignation from official opposition critic Gregory Kelley.

Joliette Parti Quebecois MNA Veronique Hivon also responded to the video.

"I was totally shaken," said Hivon. "It's almost unbearable... I couldn't understand how this could be possible when you see somebody suffering like that and you would just insult them more. It's just unbearable." 

- With files from Sidhartha Banerjee of The Canadian Press

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