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First Nations group slams Quebec's Indigenous health-care bill, walks out of commission

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A parliamentary commission for a bill aiming to implement cultural safety in Quebec health care has run into some roadblocks.

Bill 32 is facing criticism from a number of organizations, including the College of Physicians, and on Wednesday, a group formed after the death of Joyce Echaquan walked out.

The office of Joyce's Principle promotes equal access to health and social services for Indigenous people. After reading a brief statement Wednesday, the team left, skipping the discussion period.

The head of the group said she's more proud of Quebecers than of their government. At one point she says most Quebecers acknowledge systemic racism in health care exists and believes there was insufficient consultation with First Nations when drafting the bill.

"Cultural safety cannot be achieved in a health and social services network ... without recognition of the obvious. The network as it has been designed contains policies, programs and services that discriminate against Indigenous people through their lack of consideration of Indigenous realities," said Joyce Principle Office Executive Director Jennifer Petiquay-Dufresne.

The proposed legislation came to be following the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who died in a Joliette hospital in 2020. She filmed health-care workers hurling racist insults at her shortly before her death and it sparked outrage across Canada.

The Atikamekw community drafted Joyce's Principle, a series of measures to ensure equitable access to health care for Indigenous people. But it was not adopted by the government.

Among Bill 32's critics is Quebec's College of Physicians, which on Tuesday called the government's approach "paternalistic" and "colonialist." The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) is boycotting the committee.

Dr. Stanley Vollant, an Innu surgeon at Notre-Dame Hospital, did speak to the committee on Wednesday. He said the need for cultural safety in health care is urgent and said he regularly hears from Indigenous patients about their negative experiences with the health-care system.

Dr. Vollant would also like to see systemic racism recognized in the bill and said First Nations should have been involved in drafting it from the start.

Quebec's Indigenous affairs minister, Ian Lafrenière, has previously said he met with 13 Indigenous groups before tabling the legislation in June.

He and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government have so far refused to recognize systemic racism exists in Quebec's health-care system. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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