As Echaquan inquiry wraps up, supporters take to streets and coroner promises a way forward

More than 2,000 people from across Quebec marched through the streets of Trois-Rivières Wednesday afternoon, as the coroner’s inquiry into Joyce Echaquan’s death came to a close.

Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven from Manawan, Que., died last Sept. 28, moments after she live streamed hospital staff insulting her. Her death sparked outrage and calls for justice across Quebec — calls that were repeated by those at the march.

“I think it’s very important to every woman to be here, present, even from far,” said Andrea Ottawa, who attended the march.

Ottawa felt it especially important for her to voice support for Echaquan because she, too, deals with systemic racism at work on a regular basis. Ottawa is a nurse and says she often feels her patients treat her differently because she is an Indigenous woman.

Isabel Napess drove all the way from Ekuanitshit on Quebec’s North Shore to attend the march — a journey that took more than 24 hours.

“All natives, I’m sure, they’ve lived discrimination at least one time in their lives,” said Napess. “We just endure that, we never show it, so now I think it’s time to stand up and say enough is enough.” 

‘Never again,’ says coroner 

As the inquiry wrapped up, Quebec Coroner Géhane Kamel promised that Joyce Echaquan’s death will not have been in vain.

“To your children, Mr. Dubé, you will need to tell them that the small revolution of reconciliation started because of their mother,” she said, turning to Echaquan’s husband, Carol Dubé.

“To Joyce, wherever you may be, know that my report will not be complacent. It will be honest and I hope it will be the foundation of a social pact that will help us to say: ‘never again.'” 

The lawyer representing the family, Patrick Martin-Ménard, as well as lawyer Rainbow Miller, who represents Quebec Native Women, called on everyone listening to remember Echaquan not just as a victim of a tragedy, but as a person. 

“She was a woman who really loved her family,” said Miller. “Precious to both her family and her community.” 

Joyce Echaquan’s husband, Carol Dubé, left, and other family members stand in the Trois-Rivières, Que. courthouse, listening to closing statements at the coroner’s inquiry. (Julia Page/CBC )

Martin-Ménard said the past few weeks were difficult and emotional for the family, and he said the process was only made harder as they heard conflicting testimony from health-care staff who were there that day, at the Centre hospitalier régional de Lanaudière in Joliette, Que.

“It’s a relief for the family to come to an end of a process that was very hard, very emotional,” said Martin-Ménard. “Now, it’s in the hands of the coroner.” 

Still, he said the inquiry was able to provide them with some answers into the causes of Echaquan’s death. 

Last week, expert testimony revealed that Echaquan died of pulmonary edema and could have been saved had she been monitored more closely.

“We learned of a significant gap at the medical level, at the level of the the nurses, of the management of the emergency room,” said Martin-Ménard.

“We also learned, in a much larger sense, that systemic racism is a problem in our health-care system that we need to address.”

Several experts who delivered recommendations at the inquiry in recent days called for cultural sensitivity training and changes to the province’s health-care system to address the issue of systemic racism, and particularly address issues of discrimination against Indigenous women. 

Over the next 30 days, Kamel will receive the final statements from the lawyers representing everyone involved in the inquiry, after which she will submit a report, detailing recommendations of her own. 

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