As five of his children listen on, Carol Dubé sobs as he tries to describe the events of this week to two federal ministers sitting behind desks, and how he never got to say goodbye to his partner Joyce Echaquan or even hold her hand in her last minutes.
“I’m asking you to find me some answers because all I’ve got are questions and condolences, but no answers,” Dubé says, his head bowed. “There’s no human being that deserves to die with indignity, with humiliation and in fear.”
Echaquan died in a hospital in Jolliete, Que., an hour north of Montreal Monday. Before her death, she livestreamed a video of a nurse and attendant taunting her with racist comments and questions.
The video has enraged people across the country.
According to the province of Quebec, the nurse and attendant have been fired. It’s not clear if they’ve lost their license or whether they’re banned from working until the outcome of an investigation.
Guy Niquay, a family friend and spokesperson for the family got down on his knees, and like Dubé, begged the feds to act right away because the family doesn’t want to wait for justice.
Niquay, a fellow community member from Manawan, was joined by Echaquan’s 16 year old son Thomas-James who knelt, removed his cap and bowed his head.
“Mr. Miller, Madame Bennett, I beg you to help me. I don’t want to wait for one year. I want action. I want actions introduced tomorrow morning,” Niquay pleaded in French. “Enough of the studies, we’re here to tell you what we need right now in Manawan. Maybe the community can have peace.”
Miller and Bennet were handed a yellow scarf as a promise to act.
Miller said the health care system has failed Indigenous people for far too long.
After the meeting Miller was at a loss for words but said he was “digesting” what was said, that he was feeling very deeply for the family and he called the tragedy intolerable and disgraceful.
“This is a family that didn’t want to be here tonight. They came here because racism forced them to be here,” Miller said.
Carolyn Bennett was noticeably moved by the family’s pleas and noted that the family shouldn’t have to beg for justice for the loss of a mother.
She said it is Canada’s responsibility to make sure that what happened to Echaqaun never happens again.
Bennett, a physician herself, noted the indignity and humiliation and promised that Canada will walk with the family of Joyce Echaquan until they see justice.
Bennett took responsibility as Crown-Indigenous Relations minister to act and recognized that racist behaviours are ongoing within the health system.
She said she has spoken to health care workers who have witnessed wrongdoings in the system, with little accountability.
“Today we have promised that there will be change, and that justice for Joyce will mean that other families shouldn’t ever have to go through this again,” Bennet promised. “That they wouldn’t be able to say good bye and that the last words that their loved ones heard were racist.”
Canada is ‘grandstanding’ on issue of violence against Indigenous women
A vigil was held for Echaquan on Parliament Hill Thursday evening and was attended by about 150 people who lit candles and gathered around the Centennial Flame.
Drummers sang and opening remarks were made by Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda.
Commanda said she felt it was important for her to be at the vigil for Joyce, to show that as an Algonquin woman, she cares for her relatives and also to support Echaquan’s spouse, children and family and to voice her anger.
“When I heard of Joyce’s death and when I saw that video, it was very heart wrenching to see that woman die as she was begging for her life,” Commanda explained. “I was seething with anger. Enough is enough. How many of our women will be killed? How many more of our men will be killed and jour children being taken away from us?”
Commanda noted that the final report on the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry came out over a year ago and says nothing has been done.
She accused the government of grandstanding the whole process and said if Canada is truly dedicated to reconciliation then they must act on it.
Commanda said Canada better start “walking the walk”, because she’s sick of walking up Parliament Hill, saying prayers and standing with families that are burying their mother.
She said Canadians need to realize that there is racism in every province and she is particularly noted that she was insulted and appalled that the province of Quebec could say that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the province. She says the killing of Echaquan proves that it does.
“Are they crazy? I think the Quebec premier and Quebecers live along the river denial,” Commanda exclaimed. “Quebecers, if they have integrity and I’m sure there are many that have integrity, then they should be insulted as well and they should get their heads out of the sand and see that racism exists. Denying racism makes you just as guilty and silence is deadly.”
Niquay said he is honored to walk with the family but is cautiously optimistic the government will bring the family justice.
“I am happy,” he said of the minister’s response to their pleas. “But before seeing something concrete – before being too happy – I will wait for results for the things we’ve asked for. I don’t want to be too happy, or else we could be disappointed. I’m only asking for us to work together.”
More vigils like the one held for Echaquan are postponed as COVID-19 restrictions get tighter in Ontario.
The Sister’s in Spirit Annual Gathering on Parliament Hill scheduled for this Sunday, has been cancelled.