Quebec premier takes 'responsibility' for government ignoring anniversary of Joyce Echaquan's death
MONTREAL -- Quebec Premier François Legault acknowledged Monday that his government should have done something to commemorate the death of Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan.
The 38-year-old died in a Quebec hospital last year after being restrained to a bed and taunted with racist remarks from staff.
"I am well aware that in the National Assembly last week, we did not send a message of compassion and solidarity that the situation demanded of us," he said on Facebook. "I take responsibility for this. As premier, it is my duty to set an example."
He made the comment in a post to commemorate the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
"We must never forget these missing women and girls," he said. "It is also a day to say that we have a long way to go together. It is a call to memory, but it is also a call to action."
MAKE CALLS TO ACTION CONCRETE POLICIES
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador commemorated the day of remembrance for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls by urging the government to put Indigenous women and girl's safety back on the agenda.
“Five years ago, our courageous women in Val-d’Or spoke out against intolerable situations. So where are we today? Are our women and girls safer in cities? Are they really safer in our First Nations communities whose police services are chronically under-funded, or have been forced to completely shut down? Who can our women and girls turn to when their safety is threatened?" said Lac Simon Chief Adrienne Jerome, who is spokesperson for the AFNQL's Elected Women's Council.
The council directed its statement to Public Safety Minister Genevieve Guildbualt, who the council hopes will help transform its calls to action to concrete actions.
“There are more than 80 women who are elected by the members of our nations for our local governments as Chiefs or Councillors," said fellow council member Nadia Robertson. "All of these women live in our communities, know the important issue of public safety inside out, and work regularly with their male colleagues. Public safety is not just the responsibility of women, but their solidarity can go a long way towards making a difference."
The council would like Guilbault to meet its members and discuss safety issues and concerns.
REFUSING SYSTEMIC RACISM EXISTS
The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government has, in the past, refused to recognize that systemic racism exists in the province.
It also rejected proposals to establish Truth and Reconciliation Day, a new federal holiday on Sept. 30, as a statutory holiday in the province.
In a final report on the circumstances surrounding Echaquan's death, released last Friday, coroner Géhane Kamel recommended that the Quebec government "acknowledge the existence of systemic racism within our institutions and make a commitment to help eliminate it."
"The racism and prejudice that Ms. Echaquan faced was certainly a contributing factor in her death," the report finds. "This was an accidental death."
Legault notes what he learned from this is that the province needs to work harder to highlight what Indigenous people are experiencing.
"Let's think for a second what it must be like to see your daughter, your sister, your mother, your friend, your lover disappear from one day to the next without a trace," he said, noting his government is working to implement the recommendations from the Viens Commission. "And to have the impression that your government doesn't really care, or at least, not enough. No one should have to go through this in Quebec."
Nevertheless, the premier still did not utter the words "systemic racism."
"I am convinced that the vast majority of Quebecers are ready to fight against racism," he said. "We must make it a collective mission so that everyone stands up to discrimination when it occurs."
Kamel is expected to hold a news conference Tuesday on the findings in her report.
CANADIANS BELIEVE SYSTEMIC RACISM EXISTS
Despite the premier's insistence time and time again that there is no systemic racism in the province, a recent Léger survey conducted for the Association for Canadian Studies finds that the majority of Canadians believe otherwise.
According to the survey, two in three Canadians (67 per cent) believe systemic racism is an accurate way of describing prejudice and discrimination in their province or region.
That number is highest in Atlantic Canada, with 77 per cent in agreement. In Quebec, that percentage falls to 66 per cent.
The survey also finds that those who strongly disagree with using the term "systemic racism" are also most likely to reject the idea of making Truth and Reconciliation Day a statutory holiday, while supporting newcomer assimilation -- asking immigrants to give up their customs and traditions to "become more like us."