Systemic racism that led to death of Joyce Echaquan ‘well documented’: Quebec coroner

TROIS-RIVIERES — The existence of systemic racism in the way Joyce Echaquan was treated in a Quebec hospital is undeniable, coroner Gehane Kamel said Tuesday, a few days after releasing her report on the Indigenous woman’s death.

Kamel oversaw the inquiry into the death of Echaquan, finding that the demise of the Atikamekw woman was accidental but avoidable. The coroner said the racism and prejudice she was subjected to contributed to her death, and Kamel recommended the government should recognize the existence of systemic racism and make a commitment to root it out of institutions.

But despite the coroner’s recommendation, the Legault government has steadfastly denied systemic racism exists in the province.

“We have witnessed an unacceptable death, and we must ensure that it is not in vain,” Kamel told reporters. “It is unacceptable that large sections of our society deny such a well-documented reality.”

“When asked if the 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven would still be alive if she were a white woman, Kamel replied: ‘I think so.”’

Echaquan filmed herself on Facebook Live as a nurse and an orderly were heard making derogatory comments toward her shortly before her death Sept. 28, 2020, at a hospital in Joliette, Que., northeast of Montreal.

The video of her treatment went viral and drew outrage and condemnation, and the final report into her death concluded her initial diagnosis was based on prejudice and she wasn’t properly monitored before finally being transferred to intensive care.

Echaquan died of a pulmonary edema that was linked to a rare heart condition.

Kamel said she wouldn’t get involved in the political debate over systemic racism, but she said she concluded that Echaquan’s treatment was an undeniable example of its existence. It’ll be up to elected officials to decide where to go next, she said.

Her hope, she added, is that her report will be an invitation to a discussion and reconciliation with Indigenous groups.

Echaquan’s family will speak to reporters later on Tuesday.

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