Family of Joyce Echaquan files $2.7 million lawsuit against Quebec public health agency

The family of  Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw mother of seven who was mocked by staff as she lay dying in a Quebec hospital in September 2020 has filed a lawsuit seeking nearly $2.7 million.

Echaquan, 37, filmed herself on Facebook Live as a nurse and an orderly were heard making derogatory comments toward her at a hospital in Joliette, Que., northeast of Montreal.

The video of her treatment in September 2020 went viral and drew outrage and condemnation across the province and the country.

The lawsuit filed today in Joliette names the public health agency in charge of the hospital, a doctor who treated her and the nurse who was caught on film insulting Echaquan. The family is seeking a total of $2.675 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The statement of claim says, in part, that Echaquan was denied, “her fundamental rights and the obligations owed to her by the defendants were violated in a context of systemic racism and unsafe health care.”

Named in the suit are the  Lanaudière Regional Hospital Center in Joliette, Que. where Echaquan attended, the Lanaudière Integrated Health and Social Services Center, Dr. Jasmine Thanh and Paule Rocray, the nurse who can be heard insulting Echaquan and who later pled guilty to verbal violence and negligence in the treatment of her.

Thanh and the health agency are being sued for $2,155,000, Rocray for $20,000, and the health agency alone is being sued for an additional $500,000.

Joyce Echaquan inquiry
Joyce Echaquan in an undated photo.

Lawyers for the family say the key argument in the lawsuit is that the Echaquan story isn’t an isolated one.

Two years before her death, the Viens Commission into the treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Quebec’s public services heard the testimony of 20 instances of racism at the Joliette hospital towards Atikamekw people.

“When the death of Joyce happened, we realized that nothing was done, no concrete gestures were made to address this situation,” said lawyer Patrick Martin-Ménard.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault recently apologized for saying in a leaders’ debate that the racism issue at the Joliette hospital is settled.

It’s not the first time Legault has taken heat on the issue. Despite what happened to Echaquan, and the overwhelming evidence contained in the Viens Commission, Legault is maintaining that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec.

Legault later apologized to Carol Dubé, Echaquan’s husband for offending him.

According to Dubé, the discussion on systemic racism comes down to this; “the things that should’ve been changed were not changed. And we’re still waiting.”

According to Constant Awashish, grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation, the lawsuit isn’t only about Joyce Echaquan – it’s about making life safer for Indigenous people who have to use the health care system.

“Hopefully this lawsuit will make things move faster, further as well,” he said.

The Public Health Agency of Lanaudière said it won’t comment on the lawsuit.

The family and the community of Manawan marked the second anniversary of her death on Wednesday.

With files from the Canadian Press

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