MONTREAL -- Quebec's Chief Coroner, Pascale Descary, says she's "taking note" of the criticisms reported by some Quebec media of coroner Géhane Kamel, who is chairing the inquest into the death of Joyce Echaquan.

In a press release published Friday evening, the chief coroner said she wanted to reiterate her full confidence in "Kamel, who will continue her work as planned from May 25."

Descary said she's been informed that Kamel will give an update that day, after the long weekend, on the reactions published this week. 

Kamel's tone and choice of words during the hearings sparked reactions by several people, including columnists, but also a former judge and a former coroner who questioned how she was going about her work.

For example, on Monday, Kamel was impatient with the nurses and doctors who testified. During the hearing that day, they all denied having heard derogatory remarks at the hospital about Indigenous patients.

"I don't believe that," Kamel said.

In a column by Isabelle Hachey, published in La Presse, former Court of Appeal judge André Rochon openly criticized Kamel's reaction.

"When you say to a witness 'I don't believe you,' in my opinion, that is a sign of hostility," Rochon was quoted as saying.

"And there is certainly a duty of reserve which is not fulfilled."

The columnist, Hachey, wrote that "it makes you wonder what these hearings are for, exactly."


On Thursday, a nurse who has been fired since Echaquan's death explained to the coroner that the workload, mandatory full-time schedules and overtime for all since the start of the pandemic played a part in her behaviour towards her patient.

"We are treated like slaves, like pawns," she said, specifying that she was not angry with her patient, and that it had nothing to do with the fact that she was Indigenous.

But the coroner wasn't accepting that explanation: 

"There is one thing that I do not tolerate," she said impatiently. "It is being told that people are overwhelmed when there is a critical situation happening in front of them."

In an article in Le Devoir newspaper published on Friday, Denis Boudrias, who served as coroner from 1979 to 2004, said that Kamel did not show "all the serenity" and "objectivity" necessary for her work as coroner.

Last Tuesday, another nurse confided that she had the "impression" that there are "value judgments" towards Indigenous people at the Joliette hospital.

Asked if this meant that there is a perception that Indigenous people are alcoholics or drug addicts, she replied "yes."

Obviously satisfied with her answer, Kamel told her that if she could, she would have gone and hugged her.

Kamel's mandate is to determine the cause of Echaquan's death, as well as the circumstances surrounding her death, including the behaviour of employees at Joliette hospital.

Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who lived in the community of Manawan, died at the hospital on September 28, shortly after filming herself from her hospital bed while two employees are heard in the video denigrating and insulting her.

This video, widely distributed on social networks, shocked Quebecers and led to a public outcry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2021.