Calls grow again for Quebec leaders to recognize systemic racism amid health-care incidents
MONTREAL -- For many, firing two Joliette nurses accused this week of mocking a 62-year-old Atikamekw woman was the right move—but it didn’t go far enough.
Calls are growing, again, for Quebec officials to recognize the existence of systemic racism, and particularly to address discrimination across the province’s entire health-care system after a series of troubling stories.
“I think we have racism in our society -- we have to fight against this,” said Pascal Berube, a Parti Quebecois MNA.
Indigenous Quebecers also say something needs to be done soon, since some people are avoiding seeking medical care at Quebec institutions.
Premier François Legault faced weeks of pushback last summer and fall after he said systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec.
On Wednesday, it was the deputy premier who spoke. Genevieve Guilbault again didn’t refer to systemic racism, but she said the government has put in place new programs to train health-care workers.
“We want to make sure every employee in the health-care system is aware of [the] necessity [that all are] equally treated,” said Deputy Premier Guilbault, and that Quebecers have the “same right to receive the same services and quality of respect everywhere.”
Few, however, are questioning the firing of the two nurses who Jocelyne Ottawa, 62, said belittled her at a Joliette CLSC, just a few months after another Atikamewk woman, Joyce Echaquan, caught nurses’ racist commentary at Joliette Hospital on tape before the 37-year-old died.
“I think that's it's absolutely appropriate that they are fired,” said Nakuset, the director of Montreal’s Native Women's Shelter, on Wednesday.
“You’re responsible for your actions,” added Lorraine Whitman of the Native Women's Association of Canada. “And the actions, the taunting, the mocking that day… this is discrimination and racism.”
A labour lawyer said the punishment was severe, but it reflects society’s, and employers’, changing views on the issue.
“It’s an exemplary sanction that they faced, for sure,” said lawyer Marianne Plamondon, Labour Lawyer.
“If there was a clear evidence that they had [showed racist behaviour], it was unacceptable.”
Some opposition politicians say they still have questions, beyond the CAQ government’s stance on systemic racism.
“There certainly needs to be discussions with the [Order of Nurses], with their professional orders, to see what happens to these employees,” said Liberal MNA Andre Fortin.
“Can they just get another job in the health-care network somewhere else? Can they go to the private sector? Are there other repercussions?”
Also this week, it came to light that another Quebec health authority, in the Laurentians, had repeatedly posted a job opening for a white health attendant. That's also now under investigation.