Advocates are criticizing the Quebec government over its lack of consultation with First Nations people over a proposed law that is supposed to force health providers to give better treatment to Indigenous peoples in the province.
According to the government, Bill 32 aims to create a “cultural safety approach” in the province’s health network.
But First Nations advocates say the government is going about it the wrong way.
At a consultation session in Quebec City, Jennifer Petiquay-Dufresne closed her computer and stood at the witness table after giving her comments.
“With that, we leave this consultation and reiterate our willingness to do things differently, respectfully,” said the director of Joyce’s Principle Office, named after the Atikmew mother Joyce Echaquan. “We’ve submitted our brief and we’ll let you read it. You may find that the Joyce Principle Office does not endorse the colonial practices still present in the Quebec government.”
On Sept. 28, 2020, Echaquan, 37, died in a hospital in Joliette, 200 km south of where she lived. She took to social media to livestream staff at the hospital taunting her with insults as she lay dying and screaming in distress. Quebec’s coroner said the incident was proof that systemic racism existed in the province’s health care system. But the government, led by Francois Legault, has never admitted that systemic racism exists.
After her death a document called Joyce’s Principle was written following a public call-out and consultations with Atikamekw community members and healthcare workers, seeking to guarantee “a right of equitable access, without any discrimination, to all health and social services.”
Like Petiquay-Dufresne, various groups have also denounced the proposed law.
Among them, Quebec’s College of Physicians asked the government to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the province’s health care system.
“Our brief contains 13 recommendations on how the bill can go further than this first step,” said Mauril Gaudreault, president of Quebec’s College of Physicians. “First, the future law must be drafted with the First Nations, not in their place. Otherwise its colonialism.”
Gaudreault said the college is also recommending that other vulnerable communities be included in the bill.
“Following the tragic death of Mrs. Echaquan almost three years ago, in a few days’ time, we recognized and publicly denounced systemic racism in the health and social services network,” Gaudrault told the committee. “Our Board of Directors has also taken an unequivocal stand by adhering to Joyce’s Principle.”
However, Quebec’s Indigenous Affairs minister, Ian Lafreniere pushed back on allegations that the government didn’t consult with First Nations people.
“Before sitting here today, I toured all 55 communities and met with 13 groups before even thinking about drafting legislation,” Lafreniere said during the public hearing.