Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

People take part in a protest called 'Justice for Joyce' in Montreal on Oct. 3, 2020.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Joyce Echaquan was in tremendous pain and told hospital staff she was dying, but she was instead ignored and mocked, a witness told a Quebec coroner’s inquiry on Tuesday.

Annie Desroches was in tears as she described the poor treatment Echaquan received at the hospital in Joliette, Que., northeast of Montreal, last September. Desroches, who had been on a stretcher next to Echaquan, read Tuesday from a handwritten 10-page letter she wrote the day after the Indigenous woman died.

“They didn’t give her help and comfort; no, they gave her death,” Desroches told the coroner’s inquest.

Story continues below advertisement

Echaquan was a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven who filmed herself while a nurse and an orderly were heard insulting and mocking her shortly before she died last September, not long after being admitted to hospital with severe stomach pain.

Desroches said Echaquan told her she had visited the hospital a few times for her stomach but was only given morphine and didn’t want it because she would experience withdrawal symptoms.

She told the inquiry Echaquan was never disrespectful toward hospital staff. Desroches said Echaquan was in pain and began to yell and cry out as it got worse but staff ignored her.

“More and more, I understood that it was not normal to leave a person in such a state,” Desroches, 34, said in tears. “Ms. Echaquan also shouted, ‘You’re letting me die, I will die, I will die.”’

She said about four nurses where laughing at Echaquan as she yelled. Desroches said she couldn’t hear them because of Plexiglas barriers, but she said the nurses were clearly mocking and laughing at the Indigenous patient.

“If I had known what would have happened the next day, I would have hugged her,” Desroches said, concluding her testimony.

She was one of several witnesses who reported hearing racist comments aimed at Echaquan on Sept. 28, the day the patient died.

Story continues below advertisement

Stephane Guilbault was visiting his daughter at the hospital that day and he told the inquiry Tuesday he overheard staff saying, “Indians like to complain and screw and have children.”

Josiane Ulrich, who was also visiting her hospitalized daughter on Sept. 28, testified Tuesday she overheard several disparaging comments from staff toward Echaquan.

Ulrich said she heard staff say, “We’re paying for her” or “She’s an Indian, it doesn’t matter.” After Echaquan had passed away, Ulrich said she heard a staffer allegedly say, “Finally, we will have some peace, she’s dead.”

Also Tuesday, Barbara Flamand, an Atikamekw woman who took on the role of liaison officer in March 2019 at the hospital to help support Atikamekw patients, testified that her role was never taken seriously and she was often ignored or unused as a resource.

On the day of Echaquan’s death, Flamand said she received a call from the patient’s mother and rushed to get information in the emergency room, but she said she was barred access despite having a hospital identification.

“I was afraid for her [Joyce] because I had heard it in her mother’s voice,” Flamand said. She was with Echaquan’s sister-in-law in a family room when the death was announced.

Story continues below advertisement

Flamand said community members often complained about the way they were treated at the Joliette hospital.

She said she had thought she would be welcomed with open arms when the Atikamekw health officials assigned her to the facility in March 2019. Instead, she said she wasn’t formally introduced to hospital staff, lost her office space within six months and had to explain her role over and over. She said she was often ejected from the emergency room.

Burnt out and without support, she left the job in January 2021.

“I tried to defend patients and no one wanted to help me, no one wanted to hear me,” Flamand said.

The inquiry heard Tuesday from three nurses who were on duty the day of Echaquan’s death. Hospital staff have appeared with a publication ban on their identities.

One of them, who was an emergency room nurse at the hospital for a decade and now works elsewhere, testified she had heard disparaging comments from colleagues about Indigenous people and other patients, including those who didn’t speak French.

Story continues below advertisement

Earlier Tuesday, coroner Gehane Kamel told the inquiry she has been impartial and committed to transparency from the outset and didn’t mean to offend anyone with comments last week challenging health-care workers on the witness stand. Kamel’s comments had been criticized in Quebec media.

“Some of my comments may have given the appearance of a certain bias on my part, but I affirm that at all times, since the first day of this inquest, I respected the important duty of independence and impartiality as a coroner,” Kamel said.

“I can understand that my comments may have upset some people, and I’m really and truly sorry. I take note of this seriously for the future.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies