While it’s typically the United States that’s accused of having a problem with systemic racism, a shocking video has emerged out of Canada after an Indigenous woman filmed hospital staff in Quebec taunting her just before her death. The troubling footage and her passing just days later has left many questioning just how good Canadian healthcare really is.
Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother-of-seven, was admitted to a Joliette hospital in Quebec for stomach pain when things took a troubling turn for the Indigenous woman. As she laid in a hospital bed and is heard screaming “come get me” just days before dying, she found herself being insulted, taunted, and berated with slurs by her Canadian nurses.
Rather than just take it, however, Joyce managed to record the incident, live-streaming it to Facebook for all to see. In the footage, Joyce is heard crying for help from the hospital staff members, but their response leaves a lot to be desired. The vitriol she captured during her last moments of life are hard to even imagine, let alone watch.
“You’re stupid as hell,” a nurse says in French in the background of the video as Joyce Echaquan squirms in pain, according to CBC. “You made some bad choices, my dear,” another nurse says, the Guardian reported. “What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?” she asks, to which another nurse responds, “She’s good at having sex, more than anything else.”
“Who do you think is paying for this?” one of the nurses also says, according to MTL Blog, a local Montreal news blog. We can assume the nurse is referring to taxpayers since Canada has a decentralized, universal, publicly funded healthcare system called Canadian Medicare, which is funded and administered primarily by the country’s 13 provinces and territories. Each has its own insurance plan and receives cash assistance from the federal government on a per-capita basis, according to The Commonwealth Fund.
Sadly, these racist and callous remarks were some of the last words Joyce Echaquan ever heard since she died at the Centre Hospitalier Régional de Lanaudière on a Monday, just two days after being brought to the Joliette hospital by ambulance and admitted. According to Joyce’s family, she had previously suffered similar issues and also had a heart condition.
Her family believes the woman, who was a member of the Atikamekw Indigenous tribe found in southwest Quebec, was given too much morphine, contributing to her death, which was under investigation, thanks to her deathbed video. Because of the footage she was able to capture before her untimely demise, at least one of the nurses was fired following the incident as well.
Although Quebec premier François Legault condemned the staff’s actions, he denied systemic racism exists in his province and stopped short of saying the event was reflective of a larger issue. “I really don’t think we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec,” he said. Indigenous leaders, however, disagreed.
Saying this is the norm for Indigenous people in Canada — people just don’t see it because not everyone is lucky enough to have a cellphone and able to capture it as it occurs, Indigenous leaders lambasted the incident as an example of the systemic racism that Indigenous people frequently suffer in Canada.
Those leaders declared that the racism Joyce suffered at the hands of hospital staff happens far too often and also goes ignored across the country. “Discrimination against First Nations people remains prevalent in the healthcare system and this needs to stop,” Perry Bellegarde, the Assembly of First Nations national chief, said in a statement.
They aren’t alone in their assessment. “In 2019, retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens released a report that found it’s ‘impossible to deny’ that Indigenous people in Quebec are victims of ‘systemic discrimination’ when accessing health care and other public services,” the NY Post reported.
Carol Dubé, Joyce Echaquan’s husband, said he and his family have been left destroyed over his wife’s death. “I have seven children who find themselves without a mother,” he said. “I am sad. I am so sad.”
It is sad, indeed. Can you imagine seeing that this was how your loved one was treated in their last moments? What’s more, had Joyce not recorded the events that played out before she died, her story would have likely gone unnoticed, leaving many to wonder just how many such incidents never come to light.