Quebec health authority hires Indigenous staff, promises changes after Joyce Echaquan's death

The regional health board in charge of the hospital where Joyce Echaquan was mocked moments before her death, is promising sweeping changes, including hiring staff from the Atikamekw community.

'These things should have been done a long time ago,' says chief of the Manawan Atikamekw Council

Anti-racism instructor Victoria Tenasco beaded this portrait and gifted it to Joyce Echaquan's husband. (Victoria Tenasco)

The health authority that runs the Quebec hospital where an Indigenous woman was mocked before she died last September says it is taking concrete steps to ensure Atikamekw people receive better care.

Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, died in hospital after she filmed staff making derogatory comments about her. The video was shared around the world.

Caroline Barbir, interim director of the regional health authority in Lanaudière, north of Montreal, told reporters the agency is hiring members of the Atikamekw community to improve its relations with Indigenous people.

Barbir said two community liaison positions have been created, one of which has already been filled. The agency will also hire an assistant to the person responsible for Indigenous relations and an assistant commissioner responsible for complaints and service quality regarding Indigenous communities, she added.

A seat on the agency's board of directors will be reserved for an Indigenous representative, Health Minister Christian Dubé told a virtual news conference on Thursday. 

The health authority is also creating a reconciliation committee, Barbir said, adding that all employees will be required to take a sensitivity training program, the content of which will be approved by the Atikamekw community.

Barbir said all the employees involved in the incident with Echaquan have left. Two workers were fired and the head of emergency services left on her own, Barbir added.

Paul-Emile Ottawa, the chief of the Manawan Atikamekw Council, said he welcomes the changes.

"These things should have been done a long time ago,'' he told the news conference. "We've decided to get involved in this process because our people want to regain their faith and confidence in the system and health-care professionals.''

Quebec, however, has refused to adopt a set of policies called "Joyce's Principle'' —named after Echaquan and developed by the Manawan Atikamekw Council and the Council of the Atikamekw Nation. The policies are aimed at ensuring equitable access to health services for Indigenous people.

That document was rejected in November by the government over references to "systemic racism.'' Benoît Charette, recently appointed as Quebec's minister responsible for the fight against racism, has denied the existence of systemic racism in Quebec.

Earlier on Thursday, the Quebec coroner's office said public hearings into Echaquan death will begin May 13 in Joliette, about 75 kilometres northeast of Montreal.