Manawan community looks to UN for justice after Joyce Echaquan's death

The Manawan community, tired of Quebec refusing to adopt Joyce's Principle, says it is going straight to the UN next week. Quebec today announced $19.2 million in measures to support members of Indigenous communities who are victims of crime.

Community hopes international attention will pressure Quebec

Sipi Flamand, vice-chief of the Manawan Band Council, said turning to the United Nations might not have been necessary if the provincial government had adopted Joyce’s Principle. (Submitted by Sipi Flamand)

The Atikamekw community of Manawan says it will call on the United Nations (UN) to examine the reality of Indigenous women in the wake of Joyce Echaquan's death.

In an interview with Radio-Canada's Toujours le matin,  Sipi Flamand, vice-chief of the Manawan band council said that a request will be submitted Monday, to various UN bodies, including the special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"I believe it's at that point now, to put pressure on an international scale to make the systemic racism experienced by Indigenous people and Indigenous women in Canada known," Flamand said.

If the provincial government had adopted Joyce's Principle, he says, turning to the United Nations might have been unnecessary.

Joyce's Principle was published following the death of Joyce Echaquan, at the hospital in Joliette, Que. in September 2020. Echaquan died soon after filming hospital staff disparaging her as she cried for help.

It was written by the Atikamekw Council of Manawan and the council of the Atikamekw Nation to make sure Indigenous people get equitable access to government health and social services.

The federal government is providing $2 million to the Atikamekw Nation and Manawan First Nation to implement the principle.

But the Quebec government has balked, saying the manifesto calls for the acknowledgment of systemic racism in the province, something the Coalition Avenir Quebec government insists does not exist. 

Still, Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière says Quebec's stance will not prevent the province from applying important points outlined in the document.

But Grand Chief Constant Awashish of the Atikamekw Nation says recognizing systemic racism isn't a semantic debate. 

"If we want to address the situation in a proper way, we have to call it the right way," Awashish said. "It doesn't mean we're saying the Quebec population is racist…I hope one day they recognize it's not scary saying it. It's just helping both parties and the general population for reconciliation." 

Quebec announces major funds for Indigenous victims of crime

The Quebec government announced today it will put $19.2 million toward improving paralegal services for Indigenous victims of crime.

This comes two years after the release of the Viens Commission's final report.

The funding is part of a $200-million budget from the J'ai Espoir (I have hope) campaign launched by the ministry in response to the commission's recommendations to improve public services for First Nations and Inuit people in Quebec.

Lafrenière said part of the goal is to pay special attention to victims who are women.

Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said Indigenous people need to be supported while navigating the justice system. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

"The Indigenous population needs to be supported throughout the judicial process," Lafrenière said. "We want to reinforce Indigenous communities' ability to offer services in their language and services that are adapted to them."

"We want to ensure the justice system is not an additional source of violence in the life of the Indigenous people."

Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the government will be hiring interpreters and intervention workers from Indigenous communities to provide additional support to victims.

"We want to be clear that these persons that will be hired in the different groups will help the Indigenous community face the judicial system."

Jolin-Barrette says the goal is to give Indigenous people the tools and resources to understand how the justice system works if they become involved in a criminal procedure.

Michèle Audette, former president of the Native Women's Association of Quebec, says while she is pleased with the plans to hire Indigenous interpreters, the government has left many questions unanswered. 

"As a victim, where do I call? Who can pay my lawyer? Who can pay my psychologist or my elder or my counsellor because I want to go through this process for my healing?" Audette said.

"It is a step where we are working for the well-being of our people, but there are many other calls for action from that report that should also be considered."

with files from Radio-Canada