As Quebecers get set to go to the ballot box in less than a month, the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec party still refuses to acknowledge any level of institutional racism in the province’s health system nearly two years after the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Joliette hospital.
On that day, Echaquan was subjected to racial slurs and taunting as she lay on a gurney moaning in pain as she was ignored by hospital staffers. She died later that night, and a subsequent coroner’s inquest found that the government bears some level of responsibility for Echaquan’s death – which was not the first of its kind but which caught the attention of media and observers across Canada.
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said it’s pretty clear that there is some level of institutional racism in Quebec’s government institutions. Findings from both the Viens Commission report and Quebec Coroner Gehane Kamel’s report on the Echaquan death have also indicated the presence of institutional racism in the province – and that it’s something voters need to keep in mind when they head to the polls.
“I think it’s something that has been proven time and time again and been found to be the case,” Sky-Deer said. “They can keep on denying it but we know it to be the case and to keep denying it is ignorant and denial.”
Sky-Deer said when Quebecers go to the polls on October 3, they should keep in mind that CAQ leader Francois Legault has continuously denied institutional racism exists.
“There are many, many ways to make improvements, but denial isn’t one of them,” she said.
As yet, none of the provincial parties have unveiled their official platforms to combat racism or made any promises to the province’s Indigenous or First Nations communities leading up to the October 3 vote.
Two years ago, in the wake of the Echaquan death, the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador met with Legault in an attempt to help bridge the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
Later in 2020, a Quebec government committee on racism tabled a report saying more needed to be done and filed its action plan to combat ‘generalized’ racism.
it also called for an end to random police checks in the province.
Among the other recommendations are: a province-wide campaign to raise awareness against racism, as well as training for police and government employees.
It also said the government should dedicate resources to fighting racism against Indigenous peoples, including easier access to legal services and an update to Quebec school history curriculums.
Despite claims he would unite Quebecers, Legault’s policies seem to been more divisive then unitary – first Bill 96, then refusing to participate in an English-language debate – a signal that he is willing to forgo the anglophone vote. It’s a far cry from his statements on election night in 2018 that he made to the province’s anglo community at the time.
"I want to assure you that my government will be your government,” he said.
Days later, Legault appointed himself the minister responsible for the English-speaking community, saying he would "govern in a respectful manner with the historical anglophone community."
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase