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Systemic Racism killed Joyce Echaquan

Deborah Murray

October 6, 2020

Joyce Echaquan has been ever present in Quebec since her death on September 28 at a hospital in Joliette, Quebec. She is the 37-year old Atikamekw woman who live streamed on social media the horrific moments shortly before her death. Her death has been called criminal, second degree murder, a racist murder.

Someone had injected Joyce with morphine, which she was not supposed to have because of a pre-existing heart problem. Joyce somehow had the presence of mind to live stream to several social media saying she’d been drugged. In the video, we hear hospital staff approach and subject her to hate filled racist slurs, there is a struggle not seen too clearly but we do learn that  Joyce is strapped to her bed.

Many have since witnessed the recording in which we clearly see Joyce plea for someone to come and get her as she, without a doubt, fears for her life. The video is cut off when a nurse realizes she is being recorded and tries to erase the video. But Joyce’s message gets out and is recorded for the world to see.

Joyce Echaquan did not intend to teach the rest of us what the ugly reality of systemic racism looks like, but she did. She showed us in her horrifying encounter with one of the pilar institutions of society, the health care system.

Her husband, children and others in the Atikamekw community of Manawan are in the depths of a very public grief. Joyce leaves behind her seven children who will have to contend with what happened to their mother for the rest of their lives. Once again, we witness another instance of intergenerational racism, perpetuated in our time.

Thousands of people in towns and cities across Quebec and in Ontario have been demonstrating, demanding justice for Joyce. Indigenous women and organizations have been leading these demonstrations. They say the time for studies and commissions is over. They have had enough. It is time to make change happen.

To date, a nurse and orderly in Joyce’s video have been fired. A public inquiry into the death of Joyce Echaquan was just announced by Quebec’s Vice-première minister, Geneviève Guilbault. But much work remains to be done with a Premier and his ministers who refuse to acknowledge that systemic racism exists.

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