François Legault is still convinced that "the situation has improved a lot at the Joliette hospital" since the death of Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan.

On Saturday, he accused the Indigenous community of not wanting to address the problem "on the ground."

"They want to come back to the issue of systemic racism," Legault said, reacting to a brief from the Manawan Atikamekw Council, the Atikamekw Nation Council and Joyce Echaquan's spouse, Carol Dubé.

"So, they want to make a debate of words instead of ensuring that we solve the problems on the ground," the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) leader said, denying once again the existence of systemic racism in Quebec institutions.

Following the first leaders' debate this week, the Atikamekw community and Echaquan's family criticized Legault for claiming that the problem at Joliette hospital has been resolved.

In a letter sent by his lawyer, Carol Dubé said he was stunned to hear Legault "put words in his mouth," referring to a meeting that never took place despite the family's repeated requests to speak with the premier.

He argued that "if the premier had bothered to meet with Ms. Echaquan's family over the past two years, or if he had simply taken the time to read the report of coroner Gehane Kamel tabled in September 2021, he would have realized that the systemic problems that led to Ms. Echaquan's death are not of a nature that can be 'solved' by essentially cosmetic changes."

But Legault said Saturday conditions at the hospital have "completely improved."

"I met with the president of the CISSS in Lanaudière, we hired an assistant to the president who comes from the Indigenous community. We hired Indigenous liaison officers. And then, I am told that the situation has completely improved at the hospital in Joliette," he said.

Québec solidaire (QS) spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois called François Legault's position "ridiculous" and accused him of being totally out of touch.

"The reality of systemic racism against Indigenous peoples in Quebec, it still exists. There are steps that have been made in the right direction in Joliette, everyone recognizes that. But to say 'it's settled' is a lack of sensitivity, a lack of compassion," he said.

Coroner Gehane Kamel, who conducted an inquest into Echaquan's death, concluded that the woman was a victim of systemic racism during her fatal hospital stay.

The coroner determined Echaquan never had the support of the cultural safety liaison officer, and that the officer herself was treated in a cavalier manner at the hospital while the staff did not even know she existed.

Furthermore, the investigation showed Echaquan had been falsely labelled as an addict, had been infantilized, and that the autopsy proved that staff biases caused notes in her medical file not to reflect her actual state of health.

Coroner Kamel's very first recommendation was "that the Quebec government recognize the existence of systemic racism within our institutions and make a commitment to help eliminate it."

Carol Dubé believes Legault has not heard the message.

"His approach to the problem and washing his hands of it through magical thinking reflects an old mentality and reproduces the dynamics that led to Echaquan's death," he concluded.