A public inquest into the death of an Indigenous woman who filmed herself being insulted by Quebec hospital staff hours before she died will be launched as soon as possible, the province’s chief coroner announced.
Pascale Descary said the late-Saturday decision came as the result of a formal request filed hours earlier from Quebec’s Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault.
Descary’s office pledged to launch the inquiry soon, but offered no specific dates.
Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, died shortly after she filmed herself from her hospital bed in Joliette, Que., about 70km north of Montreal, last Monday while she was in clear distress and pleading for help.
Hospital staff can be heard in the video making disparaging comments about Echaquan, including calling her stupid and saying she’d be better off dead.
The video created widespread indignation, touched off several inquiries and prompted Echaquan’s family to launch a lawsuit against the hospital where she died.
Echaquan’s relatives and members of the Atikamekw community of Manawan, Que., about 200km north of Joliette, welcomed the pending coroner’s inquest.
“Every day in Quebec and Canada, Indigenous men, women and children are victims of contempt and racism in the health care system,” family and community members said in a statement released hours after Descary’s announcement. “Joyce Echaquan’s case at Joliette Hospital is certainly not unique, but rather the tip of the iceberg.”
“The public inquest must provide answers that will initiate change in how health care services are delivered to Indigenous people.”
Similar calls for reform rang through the streets of Montreal on Saturday as crowds of protesters held a rally to both express support for Echaquan’s family and voice concerns about systemic racism in the health-care system.
The coroner’s office said the public inquest will seek to examine the cause and circumstances surrounding her death, and make recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault referenced Echaquan’s death in a Sunday statement marking the annual day commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
“It falls only a few days after an event that profoundly shocked us all: the death of Joyce Echaquan and the racism that she was subjected to,” Legault wrote in a post on Facebook. “We have asked the coroner for a public inquest to shed light on this tragedy.”
Legault has been criticised for failing to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in the province.
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