Quebec must recognize systemic racism in Echaquan’s death: coroner


By Marc Lalonde

Journalist Local Journalism Initiative

The coroner of Quebec who oversaw the inquest into the death of Joyce Echaquan reiterates her call on the government to recognize a certain level of systemic racism in the province during a press conference Tuesday in Trois-Rivières.

Quebec coroner Gehane Kamel released his 28-page report last Friday, but did not speak publicly until Tuesday, detailing his findings and recommendations. In his report, Kamel made it clear that Echaquan’s death, although accidental, was preventable.

On September 28, 2020, Echaquan broadcast his last moments live on Facebook Live as hospital staff in charge of his care hurled racist epithets at him and ignored his complaints. The mother of seven died the next day at the age of 37.

Kamel pointed out that systemic racism within the healthcare system was an aggravating factor in Echaquan’s death.

“Why is systemic racism written in black and white in my report?

Because in Ms. Echaquan’s case, that’s exactly what happened, ”Kamel said. “And the day we can name the term and say that’s what happened in this situation, I think we’ll have taken a big step forward.”

In her report, Kamel noted that Echaquan had been hospitalized two days before her death with severe stomach pain that resembled repeated stabbing. She was known to have several health problems, including heart complications, and died of pulmonary edema, excess fluid in the lungs.

Asked by a journalist in French if she thought Echaquan would still be alive today if she was white, Kamel replied “I think yes”, in French.

Echaquan’s relatives, who held their own press conference on Tuesday, echoed Kamel’s feelings.

“Joyce is dead,” her husband Carol Dube said before stopping for a few seconds, “because she was native.”

Dube was accompanied by his children, Echaquan’s parents, the family lawyer and Constant Awashish, the grand chief of the Manawan Atikamekw nation.

Dube thanked the coroner for his work, but said his family had to endure too many lies on the stand during the inquest process.

“Our healing will come in the truth,” he said. “And today, a small part of that truth is finally coming to light.”

Ghislain Picard

The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) Ghislain Picard said his heart goes out to the Echaquan family.

“My first thoughts are with Carol Dube, her children and the entire community of Manawan who today are undergoing yet another step added to an already extremely painful ordeal,” he said.

In a statement, Picard called on Quebec Premier François Legault to admit there is a problem so it can be resolved.

“The Government of Quebec has a moral obligation to act without hesitation on the report’s first recommendation that the Government of Quebec recognize the existence of systemic racism within our institutions and undertake to contribute to its elimination. How can we effectively fight systemic racism in Quebec if the premier of the province continues to deny it? Picard added, saying politicians’ hollow rhetoric continues to fall flat in the face of hard evidence.

“The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister constantly talk about building ‘bridges’ with First Nations. After three years of CAQuiste government, it is high time they got down to it. The First Nations have been waiting at the river for a long time. We have to make sure that no one loses their lives at the hands of the system, ”Picard said.

Marc Lalonde is a local journalism initiative journalist who works from IORI: WASE. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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