Thousands march in Montreal demanding justice for Joyce Echaquan; public inquiry promised
MONTREAL -- Thousands of supporters including politicians and Indigenous activists took to the streets of Montreal Saturday to demand justice for Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who recently died at a Quebec hospital after being targeted by racial insults by staff.
The march took place on the same day that Echaquan's funeral was held in St-Felix-de-Valois.
“We’re being accused of politicizing her death,” said Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador regional chief Ghislain Picard. “But it’s about human rights, it is political.”
As the march was underway, Quebec Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault took to Twitter to announce she had asked the province's coroner to launch a public inquiry into Echaquan's death.
Supporters gathered at Place Emilie-Gamelin to hear speeches from leaders like Picard before beginning their peaceful walk shortly after 2 p.m.
Echaquan, from the Atikamekw community of Manawan, sought help for stomach pains at the Joliette Hospital last weekend but never made it out. In a self-filmed video from her hospital bed, Echaquan is visibly distressed and met with degrading comments from multiple people in the room, including a nurse and an orderly who have since been dismissed.
"The violence and racism that Joyce Echaquan suffered is everywhere but mostly invisible," said Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, the organization which planned Saturday's march through its Iskweu Project. "But she was able to courageously record her pleas for help to her family, and expose the racism and neglect that Indigenous people endure daily, in this case with tragic consequences."
On Friday, Echaquan's family held a press conference with their lawyer, detailing a series of legal steps they intend to take to ensure "such discriminatory and repeated acts of inconceivable violence against native people finally cease," said lawyer Jean-Francois Bertrand.
“How many other similar situations are not denounced because we don’t know they’re happening?" asked Carol Dube, Echaquan's spouse, as he fought back tears.
"People access hospitals for their health, safety and well-being, not to suffer neglect, racism and possible violence," said Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau, the Iskweu Project's research coordinator. "This is like Quebec's own George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, but instead of police, it is racist hospital staff who are perpetuating violence on our people.”
Echaquan was a 37-year-old mother of seven.
"I'm here today to reclaim justice," Dube said at Friday's conference. "I am here for my wife Joyce Echaquan and her seven children. I don't want her death to be for nothing."
Saturday's event will be for the community and allied groups to come together to "mourn, share, and bring awareness of the mistreatment and systemic racism against Joyce."
Those who attended the event wore masks and were constantly reminded to physically distance themselves from one another.