Romeo Saganash, the NDP MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou in northern Quebec is calling for the province’s health minister to step down.
“Yesterday, on National Indigenous Peoples Day, I learned of the deeply held racism and hatred Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette has for my community and constituents in the North,” Saganash said in a statement released Friday.
“The stereotypes he expressed are rooted in colonial violence. They are harmful to Indigenous families and those who experience addictions. I also wish to echo his call for the resignation of Minister Barrette.”
An audio recording of Barrette obtained by Le Devoir and CBC has him saying in English that within six months, there will be at least one case of a person who will not be allowed to board an air ambulance plane because they are agitated, drugged or under the influence.
Barrette was referring to a decision taken by the government in February that reversed a policy forbidding parents or guardians from accompanying their children on emergency flights from northern communities to medical facilities.
In the audio recording, Barrette said, “I can tell you one thing, if you follow that in the news, I guarantee you that there will be one instance in the next six months, someone will not be made allowed to board a flight, not allowed to get on the plane.
“Why? Because no one — agitated, drugged, under whatever influence — would get on the plane at any cost. That will not happen. And that happens all the time.”
He made the comments two weeks ago in a conversation with a citizen at an event in his riding on Montreal’s south shore.
“If you’re over there, and your kid has to be transported, and you’re the parent and you’re agitated, you’re under the influence or whatever, you will not get on the plane,” Barrette said in the recording. “As simple as that.”
The head of the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador is calling for Premier Philippe Couillard to fire Barrette.
“We are not done digging up and tearing down the deep roots of discrimination and prejudice against Indigenous peoples,” said Ghislain Picard in a statement.
“The minister’s utterly unacceptable statement clearly indicates that these roots are deep into the heart of Philippe Couillard’s government, who should immediately demand the resignation of Minister Barrette, or dismiss him.”
Picard suggests that Barrette should also appear before Quebec’s ongoing inquiry into the province’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.
“Maybe the Commission should have called Gaétan Barrette first, to assess how much discrimination in the important Ministry that he manages starts from the top and how much the Minister’s prejudices influence the delivery of the essential health and social services to First Nations and Inuit people? ” said Picard in the statement.
Barrette’s statement also drew the ire of the mayor of Kujjuaq Tunu Napartuk who is also calling on Barrette to be fired.
The health minister apologized repeatedly on Thursday but insisted to reporters at a Montreal event those comments were about general issues surrounding air ambulance use and not a direct reference to Indigenous communities.
“I apologize that my remarks offended Aboriginal communities, I never intended to target them in the explanations I gave, and I have the greatest respect for the Aboriginal communities,” he said in a statement.
-with files from the Canadian Press