In Canada, outrage has arisen over the death of a 37-year-old patient who was laughed at and insulted by hospital staff in the last phase of her life. Québec Prime Minister Francois Legault is furious, calling the comments of one of the nurses “unacceptable and racist”. The woman has since been fired.
The death of 37-year-old Joyce Echaquan, a native Canadian woman, descended from the country’s original inhabitants, the so-called First Nations, has hit Canada like a bomb and is being condemned at the highest political levels. While two independent inquiries into the circumstances are still ongoing, several officials are convinced that this was systematic discrimination and gross negligence.
Echaquan was taken to Joliette hospital last weekend, about 70 kilometers north of Montreal, the largest city in Quebec with severe stomach pains. The mother of seven children is dissatisfied with her care and films herself screaming from her hospital bed. She looks confused and groans in pain. According to the woman, the nurses give her too much medication to which she is also allergic.
Near the end of the video, which lasts about seven minutes, the hospital staff walks into the room. The nurses soon hurled various crude and derogatory remarks at her head. “Are you done messing around now? Are you really that stupid? You have clearly made bad choices in your life. What would your kids think if they saw you like this? Think about them.” Another nurse adds, “She’s only good for sex. And who should pay for this?”
For the time being, it is not clear what will happen after the video. On Monday, it became known that the 37-year-old patient has died. In a statement to Canadian media, CISSS de Lanaudière, the regional health authority that oversees the hospital, offers its condolences to relatives. “We were made aware of the situation at the end of the day, and if what we were told is true, it is unacceptable,” said a spokesperson.
Due to the seriousness of the facts, the Prime Minister of Quebec announced a press conference. “There is racism in Quebec, we have to fight this racism. What the nurse said is completely unacceptable.” According to him, there is no question of systematic racism in healthcare. “I really don’t think we treat First Nations people in this way in our hospitals in Quebec,” he said.
Prime Minister Legault has already announced two independent investigations. Regional health authorities investigate the caregivers’ actions, and a forensic pathologist tries to find out under what circumstances the woman died.
The video posted on Facebook leads to numerous furious reactions in Canada. Canadian First Nations advocate and politician Perry Bellegarde said the incident is evidence that indigenous women are being systematically discriminated against in health care.
Mary Hannaburg, vice president of Quebec Native Women women’s rights organization, agrees completely. “I can hardly listen to these statements. They are racist in nature and absolutely intolerable,” she told CBC broadcaster.
According to critics, Canadian authorities have been turning a blind eye to violence and racism against indigenous women for years. Since the early 1970s, thousands of indigenous women and girls have been murdered or missing.
They are, therefore, twelve times more likely to be killed than other Canadians. An investigation released last year found that the government was complicit in ‘race-based genocide’ against indigenous women. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledges that Canada has a problem with systematic racism “in all our institutions, in all our police forces”.
Meanwhile, tempers are running high. Family members and friends held an evening vigil in memory of the deceased woman outside Joliette hospital last night. A fundraising campaign for her children has already raised more than $60,000.
According to a cousin of Echaquan, the woman was hospitalized more often because of her heart condition and had faced similar discrimination just like last month. Echaquan, she said, had become so wary of hospital staff that she more often recorded live videos on Facebook from her bed. “I think it was a kind of protection for her,” the cousin tells local media. “She was always suspicious of healthcare.”
Next Saturday, a demonstration will take place in Montreal to protest racism in healthcare. “Joyce Echaquan should be remembered as someone who was strong, in contrast to the misery we saw on that video,” he said.
The hashtag #JusticePourJoyce has been trending on social media for days. Users show their compassion to the family with the hashtag and also want to express their anger at the events.