Joyce Echaquan's family tells Francois Legault not to participate in funeral and to see 'reality of systemic racism'

The family of Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw woman who died at a Quebec hospital shortly after being berated with racist remarks by staff, did not authorize Premier Francois Legault to participate in Tuesday's funeral.

"His closed position concerning the recognition of systemic racism faced by First Nations explains the community's decision in this regard," reads a news release by the Atikamekw Council of Manawan. 

Legault has consistently said he believes there are instances of racism in Quebec, but that Quebec as a whole is not racist. He repeated these comments in the wake of Echaquan's death, and again during his apology to her family and the Atikamekw community of Manawan.

"There is all the pain of her complaints, and above all, there is hatred and racism in the voices of the employees at her side," Legault said in the Salon bleu on Tuesday. "As a Quebecer, it hurts to hear that. It hurts to know that something like that can happen here."

In his statement, Legault apologized for the circumstances under which Echaquan died. He also admitted that what happened at the Joliette Hospital wasn't an isolated occurrence in the province. 

"There continues to be acts of racism against Indigenous peoples in Quebec, and this isn't by accident," he said. "For decades, Indigenous people were faced with discrimation by different levels of government." 

Still, Legault wouldn't use the word "systemic" to describe the racism faced by Indigenous people and other minority groups in the province. 

"It's not time to divide ourselves over a concept, it's time to act to fight against racism," he said. "We all agree that members of First Nations are faced with racism; it exists within police, it exists in the justice system, but it also exists outside of governmental institutions, notably in terms of employment and housing." 

Aujourd’hui, au Salon bleu, je présenterai, au nom du gouvernement, des excuses officielles à la famille de madame Joyce Echaquan, décédée dans des circonstances horribles puisque le service public québécois a failli à son devoir envers elle.

— François Legault (@francoislegault) October 6, 2020

The CAQ government has plans to meet with the chiefs of First Nations and Inuit communities in the coming days and weeks, Legault said. 

"We must work together to grow together as a people," he said. 

"I want to be clear, this doesn't mean the Quebec province is racist," he added. "On the contrary, I think Quebec is very open, and isn't racist." 

"We invite the premier to see the reality of systemic racism in different spheres of public administration and to reconsider his position," the community release reads.  

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