Health authority fires Quebec nurses accused of mocking Indigenous patient

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Two Quebec nurses accused of mocking an Indigenous patient at a public clinic northeast of Montreal have been fired, the regional health authority said Tuesday.

The nurses allegedly referred to an Indigenous patient as "Joyce" in reference to Joyce Echaquan — an Atikamekw woman who filmed herself being mocked by health-care workers as she lay dying in a Joliette, Que., hospital in September. That video was shared around the world.

The nurses allegedly made the comments last week in the same city, located about 60 kilometres northeast of Montreal. The health authority had initially suspended the two employees, and late Tuesday it said they had been fired.

"The comments made by the two dismissed employees represented a breach of the code of ethics of the nursing profession and the code of ethics and the values ​​of the (health authority)," said Caroline Barbir, the interim head of the health authority in Quebec's Lanaudiere region.

Barbir added in the news release that "discriminatory, racist and intimidating behaviour is unacceptable" and needs to be denounced.

Earlier Tuesday, a national Indigenous women's organization called for a full investigation into the conduct of the two nurses. The Native Women’s Association of Canada said it was outraged by the incident.

"We know this sort of thing goes on," NWAC president Lorraine Whitman said in a release. "Still, it is shocking that health-care professionals would behave in such a blatantly and openly racist manner so soon after the condemnations that followed the release of Joyce Echaquan’s video."

"We need a full-scale investigation."

Paul-Emile Ottawa, chief of the Manawan Atikamekw Council, described the incident as "unacceptable" and called on the province to adopt a document called "Joyce's Principle," which is a series of policies aimed at ensuring equitable access to health services for Indigenous people. The document was developed by the council and by the Council of the Atikamekw Nation.

Those recommendations were rejected by the provincial government in November because Joyce's Principle makes reference to "systemic racism." Benoit Charette, appointed as Quebec's minister responsible for the fight against racism in February, has denied the existence of systemic racism in Quebec.

Ottawa said without that recognition, Indigenous people will continue to face discrimination in the province's health-care system.

"We can see again that piecemeal solutions will not change the situation, a systemic problem requires a systemic approach," he said Monday in a news release.

The Native Women’s Association said Indigenous people frequently have negative experiences in health-care settings.

“Indigenous patients regularly experience abusive treatment, negative stereotyping, substandard care, and an overall sense of feeling unwelcome within health-care settings," Whitman said. "As a result, we are reluctant to seek treatment, even when we know it is necessary.

"In practice, this means Indigenous people have significantly worse health outcomes than non-Indigenous people."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press