'It's inhuman': Quebec coroner hears from Joyce Echaquan's family on Day 2 of inquest

·4 min read

MONTREAL — The brother of an Indigenous woman subjected to insults as she lay dying in a Quebec hospital testified Friday he was shocked at her condition when he visited the medical facility last September.

Stéphane Echaquan told the coroner's inquest examining the circumstances of the death of his sister, Joyce Echaquan, that she was bruised and tied to a bed at the hospital in Joliette, Que., northeast of Montreal.

"It's inhuman, I never thought I'd see a member of my family being tied up like an animal," he told the inquiry.

The 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven filmed herself at the hospital last September as female staff were caught on the Facebook Live video insulting and mocking her. The video of her seeking help and being ridiculed circulated widely on social media and prompted widespread indignation across the country.

By the time Stéphane Echaquan arrived on Sept. 28, his sister had already died, two days after she was taken by ambulance from the community of Manawan, north of Montreal, with severe stomach pain. He documented her bruises in photos that will be shared with the inquest.

He said his sister had talked about being fearful of seeking treatment at the hospital and that the same fear is palpable among members of the Atikamekw community following her death. He said some prefer to get medical care in Trois-Rivières, Que., halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.

"Sometimes I'm confused," the brother said to conclude his testimony. "I have questions that are still without answers."

The inquiry, which began Thursday, has heard from family and relatives of the deceased woman who have said Echaquan had reservations about going to the hospital. She had a host of health problems including diabetes and heart issues that required regular treatment.

Echaquan's sister-in-law, Jemima Dubé, knew about her reservations. “Yes I knew that Joyce was fearful about frequenting the Joliette hospital,” she told the inquest through an interpreter.

Wrought with emotion, a community member read a statement on her behalf. Dubé said on the morning of her death, Echaquan called her using the hospital phone and asked her to come bring her home because she was scared.

But Dubé said she wasn't able to secure a ride immediately. In the hours later, she saw the infamous Facebook Live video, where Echaquan complained about being overmedicated while staff are heard hurling insults at her.

"I was shocked to hear that," Dubé said. "The people with her were insulting a lot."

After Dubé got to the hospital, she said she wandered looking for help and was taken to a family room while a team tried to resuscitate Echaquan. A doctor came to see her to say they tried to save Echaquan, including with 45 minutes of cardiac massage.

"When I heard them say they hadn't succeeded, I ran out of the room like the wind," she said. "I was lost. I couldn't believe it, I didn't know what to do."

She said several people, including cousins, stayed with Echaquan's body, which she said was still in restraints and covered in bruises. Echaquan's hand was still warm but became cold over time, she said, adding that she held vigil with other community members while waiting for relatives to make the three-hour drive from Manawan.

Marie-Wasianna Echaquan Dubé, 20, Echaquan's oldest daughter, returned to testify on Friday after she took the stand a day prior. She presented a video she took after arriving at the hospital, details of which are under a publication ban.

"When I saw my mother in this state, I started to cry," Echaquan Dubé said Friday. "I wondered why she was in this state."

Also Friday, Évangeline Bellemare, a longtime friend of Joyce Echaquan, told the inquiry that Echaquan had previously talked about her concerns going to the Joliette hospital. She said Echaquan was devoted to her community and her family.

"It makes no sense," Bellemare said. "I think personally, everyone has the right to adequate care, without being subjected to racist comments."

Coroner Géhane Kamel told the hearing Friday she was cursed as she walked to the courthouse. Without going into specifics of what was said, she made a call for benevolence and calm.

"I'm going to appeal to the people," Kamel said. "I only ask one thing of you: it is benevolence. I have only one certainty when I wake up in the morning, and that is that I have the same blood flowing in my veins as all human beings on the planet."

The inquiry continues next week and will hear from hospital staff.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press