A month after Joyce Echaquan's death, her family is still waiting for answers

Joyce Echaquan died a month ago, and her family members still don't know what led to her death. The 37-year-old mother of seven died shortly after recording herself being insulted by staff at Joliette Hospital.

Joyce Echaquan died shortly after recording herself as hospital staff hurled racist insults at her

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)

A month after Joyce Echaquan's death, her family members still don't know how the 37-year-old Atikamekw woman died, and the unanswered questions are taking a toll, according to the family's lawyer.

Echaquan, a mother of seven, died shortly after recording herself as staff at Joliette Hospital hurled racist insults at her.

"Every day that passes, the family is looking forward to seeing the result," said Jean-François Bertrand, a lawyer who speaks on behalf of Echaquan's family. "It's also part of the grieving process to know the cause and exact circumstances of the death of someone you loved."

Her death sparked protests around the province and, earlier this month, the coroner announced a public inquest will be held.

Constant Awashish, the Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation,  says as questions linger, members of the community become more skeptical about the process.

"People are asking themselves questions. They're worried these investigations won't be done right and that it'll be sloppy," Awashish said.

In a letter sent to Quebec's premier on Oct. 19,  Awashish, along with the chiefs of Manawan, Wemotaci and Opiticiwan, asked that an independent observer from the Atikamekw community be allowed to follow the inquiry closely.

Awashish says they still haven't heard back from François Legault.

A spokesperson for Quebec's newly appointed Indigenous Affairs Minister, Ian Lafrenière, says Quebec's chief coroner works independently and the government cannot assign an observer.

Impassioned plea for justice for Joyce Echaquan

3 years ago
Duration 2:02
Echaquan's husband, Carol Dubé, tearfully asks that her death not be in vain and calls for recognition that systemic racism exists.

Autopsies take time, says assistant chief coroner 

Luc Malouin, Quebec's assistant chief coroner, says it can take up to 30 months to perform an autopsy in some cases, especially when the pathologist needs to perform additional tests and seek other experts' opinions.

"It's only on TV that they do those in two minutes and 15 seconds," Malouin said.

He says, ideally, an autopsy can be completed within three months, but that is rarely the case given the shortage of pathologists in hospitals.

"Pathologists are a rare commodity," Malouin said.

The lawyer for Echaquan's family also expects delays because, according to him, Quebec's chief coroner — who's in charge of the public inquiry — has asked for additional tests to be conducted.

"Those are often done in specialized hospitals," Bertrand said. "I'll be frank, those hospitals right now have a lot on their plate."

The Quebec coroner's office says the process for the public inquiry is confidential.

Over the last few weeks, the council of the Atikamekw nation held public consultations referred to as Joyce's Principles.

The goal was to hear from members of Atikamekw communities about their experiences in health-care facilities, and present a report to the provincial and federal governments on Nov. 9.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Maude Montembeault