Tue, 27 Oct 2020

Quebec's premier on Tuesday denounced nurses' racist comments about a dying indigenous woman in hospital that sparked uproar in Canada after the victim broadcast the incident live on Facebook.

In a seven-minute video streamed on Monday evening, Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, screamed in distress and made urgent calls for help from a stretcher while two hospital staff members made racist insults about her.

Their comments, in French, included calling Echaquan stupid and saying she was only good for sex and would be better off dead.

Echaquan died soon after.

She had gone to the Joliette hospital, about 70 kilometers from Montreal, a few days earlier for stomach pain, according to local media.

Premier Francois Legault announced that one of the nurses had been fired.

"The nurse, what she said, is totally unacceptable, it's racist and she was fired," Legault told a news conference. "We must fight this racism."

The Atikamekw council of Manawan also decried the nurses' remarks, saying they "clearly demonstrate racism against First Nations".

"I know very well that most of the time, the racism we are subjected to is not intentional and that it is often the result of unconscious biases," said Ghislain Picard, Grand Chief of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

But "it is also very often the fruit of government policies which lead to systemic discrimination", he added.

Legault announced two investigations, one by the regional health authorities and the other by a forensic pathologist, who is responsible for investigating deaths in suspicious circumstances or due to negligence.

On Twitter, reactions multiplied under the hashtag #JusticePourJoyce, while a vigil was scheduled on Tuesday evening in front of the Joliette hospital.

Echaquan's death comes a year after the publication of a public inquiry report that concluded that "members of the First Nations and Inuit of Quebec are indeed victims of systemic discrimination in their relations with public services".

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