QNW calls on Quebec premier to acknowledge systemic racism and adopt Joyce’s Principle

A protest organized by an Indigenous lobby group Monday morning in Quebec City called attention to the systemic racism faced by Indigenous people in the province – and the organization’s director took direct aim at the premier.

In the wake of the death of Joyce Echaquan a little more than two years ago, the provincial coroner urged the government to acknowledge that some level of institutional racism exists, but Quebec Premier Francois Legault has as yet refused to admit any level of institutional racism.

“Their heads are in the sand and they haven’t yet admitted that the issue of systemic racism exists – but it does, and it has as long as I can remember,” said Quebec Native Women executive director Claudette Dumont-Smith. “It’s been both covert, and overt, and I’ve seen it as long as I can remember. Our people in Quebec continue to suffer at the hands of latent racism and ignorance of health-care workers in Quebec.”

Dumont-Smith urged the Quebec government to adopt Joyce’s Principle – which calls for full equality in health care – and said the facts of the Echaquan case speak for themselves.

In September 2020, the Atikamekw mother of seven sought care for stomach pains at the Joliette hospital. While in the hospital, Echaquan was subjected to racial taunts, negligence and was treated so badly by the nurses and staff Echaquan livestreamed her suffering on Facebook Live. She died later that night – a death many see as tragic and unnecessary.

“These are educated people, by the way. They’re supposed to know better,” said Dumont-Smith – who is also a nurse by training. “We are taught to nurse our people back to health and what those people did shows their racism is bred into them. We are second-class citizens in our own country and our own province.”

QNW’s executive director said the top-down attitude of the Quebec government – and Legault’s lack of acknowledgment of the problem – is a problem for Indigenous people in Quebec.

“What is it going to take? How do you convince someone like Francois Legault? Though his actions, and his leadership, it allows his ministers and his MNAs to follow suit,” she said, adding that attitude often trickles down though leadership in Quebec’s civil service – and QNW will continue to fight for Indigenous rights in the province.

“I’ve been in a lot of protests over the years, and they change some minds. It keeps the issue burning in people’s minds. In order to make societal changes, you have to be persistent. And we will be persistent,” she said.

QNW president Marjolaine Etienne agreed, saying the large numbers of Indigenous women and their allies was evidence the QNW should continue to press the government on the issue.

"Today, Indigenous peoples and their allies gathered in large numbers to demand that the Quebec government respond to the demands and concerns of Indigenous women,” she said. “Premier Legault can no longer turn a blind eye. He must acknowledge the existence of systemic racism and adopt Joyce's Principle. The quality of our lives and those of future generations depends on it.”

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase