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If Joyce Echaquan were white, she would still be alive, Quebec coroner says

A three-week coroner's inquiry was held last spring following the death of Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who died while in hospital north of Montreal. (Facebook)

A three-week coroner's inquiry was held last spring following the death of Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who died while in hospital north of Montreal. (Facebook)

Photo: Facebook

RCI

The Quebec coroner who presided over a three-week inquiry into the death of Joyce Echaquan said she believes the Atikamekw woman would still be alive today if she were white.

Echaquan, a mother of seven, died on Sept. 28, 2020, shortly after recording herself as health-care staff in a hospital north of Montreal hurled racist remarks at her.

Her death and the footage leading up to it sparked outrage and protests, as well as calls for the province to acknowledge systemic racism.

After her report into Echaquan's death was released on Friday, coroner Géhane Kamel met with reporters in Trois-Rivières, Que., to explain her findings.

She concluded that racism played a role in Echaquan's death, and that her death was not from natural causes but accidental because she did not receive the care she was entitled to.

She concluded Echaquan's death could have been prevented with better care.

Although this may be difficult to hear, it is a system imprinted with prejudice and biases that contributed to [health-care staff] not taking the situation seriously, Kamel said Tuesday. 

She also said that Echaquan was infantilized and labelled as a manipulative drug abuser, despite there being no evidence of this.

Asked by a reporter in French if she thought Echaquan would still be alive today if she was a white woman, Kamel replied: Je pense que oui, or, I think so.

Kamel said the inquiry was a difficult but necessary process, and some of the testimony shook her on a human level.

Through her death, Joyce left us an extremely important legacy, Kamel said while fighting back tears. It would be extremely sad if we learned nothing from her death.

Premier, Echaquan's family speaking this afternoon

Kamel also issued several recommendations, the top one (new window) being that the Quebec government must recognize the existence of systemic racism within its institutions.

Quebec Premier François Legault has repeatedly denied the existence of systemic racism in the province.

Systemic racism doesn't imply that each individual that is part of this system is racist. It implies that the system — either through prejudices that are tolerated, reprehensible acts or its inaction — contributes to trivializing and marginalizing Indigenous communities, Kamel said during the news conference.

Once my observations are made and my recommendations are sent to the different [provincial] ministries and organizations, it is up to them to decide if they'll seize this opportunity for a dialogue.

Echaquan died of pulmonary edema.

​Kamel's report notes that Echaquan's care was affected because medical staff assumed she was suffering from withdrawal, which turned out to be untrue.

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