“One day they are going to kill me”: Joyce Echaquan killed by Canada’s racist Healthcare system

37 year old Joyce Echaquan, a member of the Atikamekw Nation died in a Joliette hospital shortly after posting a Facebook livestream video detailing degrading, racist treatment at the hands of her nurses. 

By Starla Myers

JOLIETTE, QC – Joyce Echaquan’s harrowing video recording of mistreatment in a Canadian hospital is a painful reminder of just how deadly Canada’s racism is for Indigenous people. 

Echaquan’s 72km trip from her home on the Manawan Indian reservation to the Centre Hospitalier de Lanaudière in Joliette, Quebec resulted in her death. 

Echaquan’s health had been affected by ailments caused by colonial encroachment on her people’s lifeways. In a phone interview held on Thursday with Real People’s Media, family friend Chantal Chartrand reported that Echaquan attended the Emergency department on Saturday, Sept. 26th to seek treatment for stomach pains, and that by Monday, Sept. 28th, she was dead.

While in the hospital, Echaquan made a Facebook livestream video of her treatment. As Echaquan writhed in pain, the hospital staff could be heard saying in French… “You’re stupid as hell…” “You made some bad choices, my dear,” while another nurse says, “What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?” “She’s good at having sex, more than anything else,” the first nurse responded. Shortly after recording the video, Echaquan passed away. Her family awaits the results of the autopsy and is preparing for legal action

Speaking to the CBC, Amir Attaran, a professor in the Faculty of Law and School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa, stated that the medical staff “Acted callously; they acted in a way they knew was unsafe; they acted with hatred; they acted with negligence.” 

Standards and procedures

There are standard practices within each hospital in Canada that are meant to ensure the best possible outcomes for the patient, and Quebec is no different. The staff are responsible for their actions to their employer and the governing bodies which grant them their licenses as health professionals. 

Joyce had a documented medical history stemming from a serious heart condition at the Hospitalier de Lanaudière and she visited there as recently as August of 2020. This medical history listed allergies and sensitivities, diagnoses, required interventions, next of kin, and even how many children she had. Gathering this information is standard for every hospital in Canada to avoid adverse events and make the best possible medical decisions by her multi-disciplinary team. Her medical team should have known that the risks outweigh the benefits of administering certain opiates in patients like Joyce who have cardiac issues. 

This was not the first time Joyce endured racist treatment at the Joliette Hospital. Joyce’s friend Chantal Chartran told Real People’s Media that, “Joyce said one day they are going to kill me.” Chartrand added, “I know that the people at this hospital tried to convince her to have an abortion when she was pregnant with her last child. Joyce said “absolutely not, I do not believe in abortion.” Echaquan was already a mother to six children at the time. 

In her livestream video, Joyce had been restrained, and her presentation was consistent with respiratory distress and delirium which are both medical emergencies. Her live stream video, which lasted over seven minutes, is quite telling and reveals specific examples of racism faced by indigenous people in Canada. 

What it did not capture is the treatment that she had been receiving until that point, which demonstrates the escalation of abuse by these nurses and potentially the entire medical team. 

Certain racial and cultural dynamics had to be present to allow and accommodate the nurses racist behaviour in a professional environment. These nurses would have had the perception they have worked hard and earned the dominance afforded to them by their privilege, and blamed the victim in her vulnerable state for “leeching” off the system. They exert their racist behaviour by speaking freely and loudly in a room that did not meet privacy and dignity standards; they knew that no one would question their actions, and did not care who heard their racist words. 

As Echaquan’s friend Chartrand wondered out loud, “What if she didn’t record this, what would they have said, that she just died?”

Canada’s health care discrimination rooted in Colonialism

The thought that Indigenous people are benefiting from “free handouts” is a direct result of Canada’s colonial foundations. Such thinking suggests that the original people could not care for themselves and subsequently, that the “savages” required state-sponsored rescuing.  

When Premiers or Ministers deny the existence of systemic racism, they validate the behaviour of abusive medical staff by not holding them and the system itself accountable for racist outcomes. 

Canada prides itself as being a leader in medical technology, in eradicating certain illnesses and increasing people’s life span from chronic disease – unless you’re Native! The average Canadian can expect to live until they’re 82 and half years old. The average Indigenous person living in Canada has a life expectancy 15 years shorter then that. 

Echaquan’s death reminds us of the true cost of Canada’s racism towards Indigenous people. As Carol Dube, Joyce’s husband said in an interview with Global TV:

“How many more people need to die so that finally we recognize that there is systemic racism against us Indigenous people? I am convinced that my wife died because systemic racism contaminated the Joliette hospital.”

Real People’s Media is aware that Onkwehon:we people have faced racism and discrimination at many Canadian health institutions. If you have a story to tell about your experiences you can reach us at realpeoplesmedia@gmail.com

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