Nfld. & Labrador

Mi'kmaw physician in St. John's calls for change after death of Joyce Echaquan

John Jeddore says he's heartbroken and angered over the treatment of Joyce Echaquan.

'It's not an isolated incident,' John Jeddore says

John Jeddore, a Mi'kmaw physician from Miawpukek First Nation, says the treatment of Joyce Echaquan in the moments before her death hits close to home. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

A St. John's doctor has added his voice to those across the country condemning the death of Joyce Echaquan, who filmed staff making racist comments about her in a Joliette, Que., hospital during the final hours of her life.

John Jeddore, a Mi'kmaw physician from Miawpukek First Nation, took to Twitter shortly after the news of the video and Echaquan's death emerged to share his thoughts.

Jeddore tweeted, "As an Indigenous person, I am angry and heartbroken. As a physician, I am angry and heartbroken. This needs to change, we need to change."

The neurology resident with Eastern Health in St. John's told CBC News Echaquan's death hits close to home for him, as he is both an Indigenous person and a doctor.

"Seeing someone pass away due to what could have potentially been a preventable issue from what we know so far, while potentially her last memories [were of] being so disrespected, facing such racially charged sentiments, is just incredibly heartbreaking and makes me incredibly angry," he said. 

Jeddore said he felt empowered after entering medicine via Eastern Health's and Memorial University's Aboriginal Health Initiative, giving him hope for the future of medicine and the future of cultural sensitivity by treating everyone with respect and dignity. 

"But then you see things like this and it just takes you off your feet, and it makes you feel like we've moved back so many more steps," he said. 

"It's not an isolated incident. That's why I feel like these ideas need to change, and we need to change, in order for the system to change."

Echaquan's family have been leading protests following her death, and say they are taking legal action against the hospital. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Echaquan, who was an Atikamekw from Manawan, about 250 kilometres north of Montreal, had gone to hospital with stomach pains. Her family said she took video of her experience because she didn't trust she would get the care she needed. 

Jeddore said he couldn't watch the video Echaquan streamed live to Facebook as she lay in her hospital bed pleading for help and for her husband.

In fact, he refuses to watch it. 

"It already hurts so much to hear that a mother of seven children, I think, was left to die," he said.

"The last things she probably heard was people mocking her and using racially charged sentences."

Fear of racism

Jeddore said a baseline amount of anxiety already exists for Indigenous women and elders who need medical attention, for fear of the racism they may experience.

He feels strongly that things are getting better, especially in the generation of physicians he works with who he said are well informed of Indigenous issues and cultural sensitivity. 

"I'm optimistic that these issues will slowly fade. The fact that it's still happening makes it difficult to be optimistic," Jeddore said. 

"But I hope when people see stories like this they also see people like me and other health-care providers speak out against it."

Quebec's chief coroner will launch a public inquest into the circumstances surrounding Echaquan's death, a minister in Quebec's provincial government said Saturday, an announcement that came after days of public protests and outcry in Montreal and Quebec City.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Carolyn Stokes