Coroner’s inquiry into Joyce Echaquan’s death won’t happen before 2021, Quebec says

Atikamekw Nation says it will release demands on how to curb racism in health care called Joyce’s Principle in the coming days.


Justice for Joyce signs were all over Parliament Hill last week as people seek answers to her Echaquan's death. Photo: Jason Leroux/APTN.

Hearings for the public coroner’s inquiry into the death of Joyce Echaquan will not begin until next year, according to Quebec government officials.

In a news release issued Wednesday, Quebec said the hearings will be held “as soon as possible in 2021.”

Precise dates and locations are still to be announced, according to the statement. There was no mention of whether the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in determining the timeline.

Coroner and lawyer Géhane Kamel will oversee the inquiry, assisted by two lawyers.

Kamel was is also handling the public inquiry regarding COVID-19 related deaths in the province’s public eldercare facilities, and recently presented findings in the case of a 24-year-old man who died during the 2019 Montreal Marathon.

“A public inquiry – like its name indicates – is a process that takes place in public. It permits the coroners to assign witnesses and to hear from implicated parties,” the government statement reads.

“The mission of the coroner is not to make declarations on civil or criminal responsibility, but to determine the causes and circumstances of the death, and to formulate – if needed – recommendations in order to avoid similar deaths.”

“What really happened, and how can we avoid it happening again?”

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Joyce Echaquan

Echaquan – a 37-year-old mother of seven – died at Joliette hospital on Sept. 28.

In the moments before she died, Echaquan recorded an unknown number of caregivers taunting her, saying she was “better off dead.”

One nurse and one patient attendant were fired following the incident according to the province.

Echaquan’s family announced last week they will be suing Joliette hospital – and all implicated staff members – for personal damages.

They will also be petitioning the OIIQ – the Quebec body that issues nursing licenses – to ban the nurses involved for life, and will be filing for crime victims’ compensation.

Echaquan was laid to rest at a church in her home community of Manawan, 252 km north of Montreal, on Tuesday morning,

“Joyce was a very good mother for her children, and brought them love and security,” reads a statement from the Atikamekw Council of Manawan. “Her seven children are like the seven teachings of our ancestors, which represent love, respect, honesty, humility, bravery, wisdom, and truth.”

The hospital in Joliette, Que. where Joyce Echaquan went for help – and later died. Photo: Robbie Purdon/APTN

Quebec Premier Francois Legault was denied entry to Echaquan’s funeral according to the statement, due in part to his refusal to acknowledge that racism towards First Nations in Quebec is systemic.

“We invite [Legault]  to see the reality of systemic racism in the different spheres of public administration, and to reconsider his position,” the council statement reads.

According to Manawan Chief Paul-Emile Ottawa, the Atikamekw Nation will be revealing “precise demands” to help curb racism in health care in the coming days.

They say the motion will be called “Joyce’s Principle.”

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