An Indigenous woman recorded her dying moments in a Quebec hospital via Facebook Live on Monday while two nurses made racist comments about her.
Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, had gone to the hospital in Joliette, a city 50 kilometres northeast from Montreal, for stomach pains.
In the video, which circulated online but is no longer publicly available on Facebook, Echaquan can be heard screaming for help and saying she was being overmedicated. Two nurses speaking French can be heard towards the end of the video saying Echaquan is only good for sex and would be better off dead.
They also question her life choices and one asks, “What would your kids think to see you like this?”
“Who do you think is paying for this?” they also ask.
Echaquan died shortly after. According to her family, she suffered from ongoing heart problems, so they suspect she had an adverse reaction to morphine.
The 37-year-old’s death is now being investigated, according to Quebec’s Integrated Health and Social Services Centres.
In a statement to VICE News, the public health authority said the comments heard in the video are “unacceptable” and confirmed one of the nurses has already been fired.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault also confirmed on Tuesday that a coroner’s inquiry is taking place, as well as an administrative probe. He told reporters that the treatment of Echaquan was “not acceptable.”
But he still didn’t acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in the province. Since June, the premier has firmly held the belief that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec.
"I really don't think that we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec. Yes, there is some racism in Quebec. We're working on that," Legault said Tuesday.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada issued a statement condemning the incident.
"It was with disgust that we heard a nurse, a woman who was supposed to care for her, utter racial slurs rather than come to her aid,” the statement said. “It makes us wonder how many other Indigenous women are being subjected to this sort of abuse in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.”
Karine Echaquan, Echaquan’s cousin, told Montreal Gazette Echaquan had recently started videotaping her hospital encounters because she was experiencing racism often.
Many family members learned of Echaquan’s latest hospitalization via Monday’s Facebook Live and Karine said she rushed to the hospital as soon as she saw it. Echaquan had already died by the time Karine arrived.
“It’s horrible. Even when I went to sleep, I could still hear her screams in my mind,” Karine said, adding she had to break the news to Echaquan’s eldest daughter, who is 19.
The news comes almost a year after a commission investigating the treatment of Indigenous peoples in public services in Quebec was released. The report offers damning insights into systemic racism across sectors, including health care, youth services, and law enforcement.
“It is clear that prejudice toward Indigenous peoples remains widespread in the interaction between caregivers and patients,” the report says. “The situation is such that the patients brace themselves and devise strategies to decide how to deal with the racism…they will encounter when they walk into an emergency room.”
According to the report, racism ranges from unfair stereotyping of Indigenous patients to non-consensual drug administration.
Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, condemned the false stereotypes that underpin tragic events like Echaquan’s death.
"We recognize the filthy prejudices that continue to exist today, like the one that we don't pay for anything and live on government handouts," Picard said, the CBC reported.
“We know this because there is a video of this tragedy, and you can clearly hear the nurses insulting Joyce because she is Atikamekw, because she is Indigenous."
Atikamekw Nation issued a statement with condolences to the family and said Echaquan likely received inadequate treatment.
“Discrimination against Indigenous people in public services is unfortunately still far too prevalent,” the statement says, adding Echaquan’s video “reveals disturbing condescension and racist remarks on the part of caregivers.”
Crown-Indigenous Services Minister Carolyn Bennett called Echaquan’s death “heart-wrenching.”
“Every week we are hearing stories like this,” Bennett said. “If you can't utter the words ‘systemic racism’ then you're probably part of the problem.”
Echaquan’s death is the latest example of anti-Indigenous racism across Canada. Mi’kmaw communities in the country’s East Coast are currently facing intimidation and threats for asserting their legal right to fish. Several instances of police brutality targeting Indigenous peoples have also been reported this year, including the violent assault of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam by Alberta RCMP.
Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.