Quebec launches public inquiry into death of Joyce Echaquan in Joliette hospital

The announcement came as thousands of people marched in Montreal and Quebec City demanding "Justice for Joyce."

Announcement comes as protests held demanding 'Justice for Joyce'

Thousands of people attended the Montreal demonstration on Saturday. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

A public coroner's inquest has been launched into the death of Joyce Echaquan, who filmed staff at a hospital in Joliette, Que., hurling racist comments at her in her final hours.

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said on Twitter Saturday afternoon that she had asked the chief coroner to hold a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Echaquan's death.

Later on Saturday, the chief coroner confirmed she had ordered the inquiry.

A coroner was assigned to investigate Echaquan's death on Tuesday. Coroner's investigations are confidential, but the resulting reports are public documents that can be accessed by request. 

Public inquests are not trials, but are typically held in courtrooms where witnesses and experts testify before the coroner, who holds powers similar to those of judges.

The goal of an inquest is to uncover the probable causes and circumstances of a death and recommend changes that could be made to prevent similar deaths.

The announcement came after protests were held in Montreal and Quebec City demanding "Justice for Joyce." Thousands of people attended the Montreal protest and police said attendees obeyed the new decree requiring physical distancing and face coverings during demonstrations.

A man and woman pose for a photo, their heads close together.
Family members want to know exactly how and why Joyce Echaquan, right, died while in hospital. (Facebook)

In a video broadcast live on Facebook Monday, Echaquan can be heard pleading for her husband to take her home as hospital staff are heard using racist and degrading language about Echaquan, who was an Atikamekw from Manawan, about 180 km north of Joliette.

Echaquan's family told CBC News that she recorded several videos during her hospital stay because she did not trust she would get the care that she needed.

Protesters march to demand justice for Joyce Echaquan in Montreal on Saturday. Hundreds of protesters also marched Saturday in Quebec City. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Nakuset, who runs the Native Women's Shelter and helped organize the march in Montreal, said all health-care staff should be screened for anti-Indigenous bias, and reparations should be made to the Atikamekw of Manawan.

The treatment of Echaquan in the video mirrored testimony heard during the Viens Commission, which detailed systemic discrimation against Indigenous people receiving public services in Quebec — including at the Joliette hospital.

Nakuset said Premier François Legault, who has repeatedly declined to acknowledge there is systemic racism in Quebec, needs to read that report.

"I don't understand how he can say that when the Viens Commission report sits on his desk," she said.

"If you admit [systemic racism exists], then you have to change."

Protesters marched through Montreal on Saturday to demand action for Indigenous people in Quebec. On Monday, the premier met with Atikamekw leaders. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

One nurse and one patient attendant at the hospital in Joliette have been fired and investigations by the local health authority are already underway.

On Friday, Echaquan's family said it intended to launch a legal battle against the hospital and its staff.