The Quebec coroner running the inquest into the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Joliette hospital last fall implored nurses and staffers from the hospital to be honest in their testimony after two distinct storylines emerged in the proceedings Monday in Trois-Rivieres.
“I prefer that people be honest,” coroner Gehane Kamel said. “We’re not conducting a trial, we are trying to understand.”
Kamel was referring to testimony heard from nurses at the hospital where Echaquan died last fall indicating the hospital was always welcoming and respectful of Indigenous clientele, despite the hospital developing a reputation as one to be avoided among the Atikamekw population of Manawan.
Echaquan, 37, died in the hospital late last September, but not before she broadcast her last moments live on the Facebook, showing her being victimized by laughter and racial slurs as she lay on a bed asking for help from hospital staff.
None came, and the mother of seven died in the hospital September 28, 2020. Now, Kehane is trying to get to the bottom of it.
The coroner told proceedings that she had a hard time believing testimony that the hospital and its staff treated everyone the same – and implored those testifying to be honest.
“As long as people are going maintain positions that are diametrically opposed — that is, one planet where everything is fine and a community that says, ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital because I’m afraid of the nurses,’ well, reconciliation will never happen, even if you have all the best training in the world,” Kamel said.
A doctor who treated Echaquan – nurses’ identities have been protected by a publication ban – said her death should have been prevented and says he doesn’t understand how it happened.
“I still don’t understand what happened, and it’s something that saddens me, that we don’t have answers for everyone who knew her,” said gastroenterologist Dr. Jean-Phillippe Blais, adding the treatment Echaquan was subjected to was reprehensible. “It should never happen in a hospital.”
Blais testified the night before her death, Echaquan was agitated and had said she had previously been on opioids, and that he thought her stomach pains were a result of withdrawal symptoms. He scheduled a colonoscopy for Echaquan, but she died the next day.
Echaquan’s death inspired Joyce’s Principle, a campaign started by the Manawan community to ensure health care across Canada is doled out without prejudice and free of discrimination.
The Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) announced earlier this week that is has committed to supporting Joyce’s Principle.
Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) Chief Ghislain Picard said he was glad to see the CSQ had climbed on board.
"It is not by chance that the CSQ has taken action that meets the expectations of our communities, especially those that were directly affected by the events that preceded and followed the tragic death of our sister Joyce. The First Nations are grateful to those who have the conviction that the system must be reformed to be more respectful towards the First Nations," he said, adding he was glad to see the CSQ join the Quebec College des Medecins in supporting major changes in the way health services are delivered when it comes to members of the First Nations.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase