By Gordon Lambie
While groups across the province encouraged people to take time to reflect on the death of Joyce Echaquan on the anniversary of her death on Wednesday, it ended up being a day to debate systemic racism in Quebec’s National Assembly.
Echaquan was a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman who died in the Joliette Hospital on September 28 of 2020 after having filmed hospital staff mocking and making racist comments about her. Her death and the outcry surrounding it inspired the writing of Joyce’s Principle, a document prepared by the Council of the Atikamekw of Manawan that calls on the provincial and federal governments to guarantee all Indigenous Peoples the right of equitable access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services.
During question period on Tuesday, the day of the anniversary, Quebec Solidaire leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois asked Premier François Legault if he was ready to recognize the fact that Indigenous peoples in Quebec face systemic racism and discrimination.
“More and more of us are understanding that there is no shame for the Quebec nation in recognizing and naming a problem, otherwise we will not succeed, otherwise we will not solve this problem,” Nadeau-Dubois said.
Consistent with his responses to such questions in the past, Legault acknowledged the existence of “racist people” in Quebec but denied the existence of systemic racism and said that although the government agrees with the core elements of Joyce’s Principle, it cannot support the document as-is because of the use of that term.