Family of Indigenous woman who died in Quebec hospital to announce lawsuit

The family of Joyce Equachan, an Atikamekw woman who was subjected to degrading racist comments as she lay dying in a Joliette hospital, is expected to announce their decision to take legal action on Friday afternoon.

Members of Echaquan’s family, community members and lawyer Jean-François Bertrand will speak with reporters at the Lanaudière Native Friendship Centre.

“In 2020 simply denouncing systemetic racism is insufficient,” said Bertrand in a statement. “One year after the filing of the Viens report, the sad story of Ms. Echaquan shows once again that nothing has changed. Indigenous people are victims of unjustified prejudice and discriminations. Times must change.”

Before her death on Monday, the 37-year-old mother of seven recorded a video from her hospital bed and posted it to social media. In it, she is pleading for help while hospital staff can be heard hurling insults and racist comments towards her.

Echaquan’s family said she had been admitted with stomach pain.

The regional health authority (CISSS de Lanaudière) responsible for the hospital where Echaquan died confirmed that a patient attendant was fired on Thursday afternoon.

Earlier this week, the province announced a nurse heard in the video was also fired.

The Quebec coroner’s office is investigating the circumstances surrounding Echaquan’s death and the regional health broad is also conducting two separate investigations.

Echaquan’s death has sparked dozens of vigils in the province and has prompted multiple calls to action.

Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador was scheduled to meet with Premier François Legault in Montreal on Friday morning, but Picard abruptly cancelled it at the last minute.

“We still want to engage in the most favourable way, with the right conditions, which were not there this morning,” said Picard. “In light of the many, many calls that I had yesterday, up until late last night, until late this morning. Ultimately the decision, which was solely mine, was I didn’t have what I considered to be the minimum conditions to be there this morning.”

He added that he feels not attending the meeting sends a strong message.

On Thursday, Premier Francois Legault stood behind Quebec’s minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, amid calls for her resignation from the official opposition.

“What happened in Joliette shows us that there is an urgent need to act to fight against discrimination, in particular against Indigenous peoples,” he said.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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