Hanes: a year after Joyce’s death, systemic racism rots away

Legault’s refusal to consider the systemic nature of discrimination or racism has a trickle-down effect.

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For her seven children, husband, family, friends and community, Joyce Echaquan’s horrific death a year ago this week remains an open and painful wound.


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But for Québec society, it remains a festering sore that will refuse to heal as long as our government, institutions, and some members of the general public refuse to acknowledge how systemic discrimination contributed to its tragic demise.

Echaquan is the 37-year-old Atikamekw woman who bravely used Facebook Live to broadcast her shocking final moments at a Joliette hospital as staff tormented her with insults and taunts.

It was our George Floyd moment.

Just as a bystander video of Floyd’s murder by the Minneapolis police showed, undeniably and unequivocally, the extent of racism in US law enforcement, Echaquan’s recording demonstrated, in a way The undeniable and unequivocal prevalence of systemic discrimination in the Quebec healthcare system.


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With his final act, he put a human face on report after report documenting abuses against indigenous people, past and present, from the six volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the cultural genocide of the residential school system to the 488-page Viens Inquiry, which spent three years examining the deficiencies of Quebec’s public services.

Just a year before Echaquan’s death – disturbingly, almost to the day – retired Quebec Super Court judge Jacques Viens stated: “It seems impossible to deny that First Nations and Inuit are victims of discrimination. systemic in its relations with the public services that are the subject of this research “.

And yet here we are.

Despite these indisputable conclusions, despite the fact that Echaquan’s death embodies the concept itself, Quebec Prime Minister François Legault has failed to recognize anything systemic in this very obvious example of racism and discrimination in this province.


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There is racism, yes, he admits, and he has apologized. But Legault has repeatedly insisted that “there is no system.” To recognize it as such would somehow hurt the feelings of too many Quebecers who consider this a bad word, an insult to the nation, a personal slight from the “wokes” who apparently “see discrimination everywhere.”

Quebec is neither more nor less racist than anywhere else, but this particular narrative is as useless as it is ridiculous.

More than symbolic or semantic, this defensive attitude impedes the implementation of the 142 recommendations of the Viens report, which in many ways foreshadowed the context in which Echaquan’s death occurred.

Refusal from the top to consider the systemic nature of discrimination or racism has a trickle-down effect. If the starting point of any discussion is that it just doesn’t exist, dismiss similar experiences, accusations, and incidents. You fail to connect the dots in a meaningful way that addresses past injustices or prevents future tragedies. Pass the buck, perpetuate bureaucratic inertia and lead to institutional indifference.


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One example: the Montreal Native Women’s Refuge has encountered such “obstacles” with the CIUSS Center-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, which runs Batshaw Youth and Family Services. A report presented in 2019 found examples of discrimination, both blatant and systemic, towards indigenous children in care, from refusal to let families speak in their native language during supervised visits to outrageous comments about parents and expulsion of indigenous children from their homes for unjustified reasons. reasons.

But according to Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Refuge, the answer has been “crickets.” Since two years ago.

Nakuset said that to his knowledge, the health agency has not implemented a single of Viens’ recommendations, nor has it shown any inclination to do so. The organization announced in a letter in August that it is cutting ties with CIUSSS, which it has been advising on indigenous issues.


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“If the government is not going to hold them accountable, then they will get away with it,” Nakuset said of the tone set by the prime minister’s own confusion.

Likewise, this attitude will preventively nullify any future findings of the forensic investigation that examined the specific circumstances of his mistreatment.

It has already resulted in the rejection of guidelines proposed by the Manawan Atikamekw Council to ensure that health and social services are provided to indigenous peoples with respect, and that Echaquan did not die in vain. The reason Joyce’s Principles are not novel is because they contain the loaded words “systemic discrimination.”

“Not useful at all” said the Minister of Indigenous Affairs of Quebec, Ian Lafrenière He regretted the offensive terminology.

But what really does not work is the political stubbornness that stands in the way of reconciliation by putting the discomfort of Quebecers before the lives of indigenous people.

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