Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A person holds a picture of Joyce Echaquan during a vigil in front of the hospital where Echaquan died, in Joliette, Que., on Sept. 29, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

A nurse who works at the Quebec hospital where Joyce Echaquan died last year told a coroner’s inquest Tuesday there is a perception among her colleagues that Indigenous people are alcoholics or drug addicts.

The inquest is investigating the death of Ms. Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven who filmed herself at the hospital northeast of Montreal as female staff were heard insulting and mocking her shortly before she died Sept. 28, 2020.

The nurse, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, initially told the inquiry she had never heard any negative comments by staff toward Indigenous patients. But she revised her testimony after pointed questioning from coroner Gehane Kamel, admitting there were issues between the Atikamekw community and workers at the hospital in Joliette, Que.

Story continues below advertisement

“In my opinion, I think there is a problem with the Joliette hospital with the (Atikamekw) community,” the nurse said, agreeing with the coroner there was a perception among her colleagues that those patients have problems with alcohol and drugs. “We hear a lot of comments like that,” she said.

Ms. Kamel said she welcomed the honesty from the witness, one of four nurses and an orderly testifying on Day 4 of the public hearings in Trois-Rivieres, Que.

From the onset of the inquiry, Ms. Kamel has said the behaviour and attitude of hospital staff toward Ms. Echaquan are integral to understanding the circumstances of her death.

“Maybe you are the first step toward this reconciliation,” Ms. Kamel said. “I hope that those who follow you (to the stand) will be able to sit before me and tell me this.”

But the nurse stood out from other witnesses, who largely maintained they were unaware of rudeness, derogatory comments or prejudicial views towards Indigenous or non-white patients, although some added the proviso that they couldn’t say it never happened.

On Monday, Ms. Kamel had urged honesty from participants after hospital staff testified they weren’t aware of derogatory comments toward Indigenous patients or other minorities.

The coroner has said repeatedly she finds it hard to believe everything was perfect at the hospital. Members of the Atikamekw community from Manawan, Que., have said they’re fearful of seeking treatment at the hospital, and since Ms. Echaquan’s death, staff have been required to watch a three-hour video about the community’s history and culture.

Story continues below advertisement

Staff have testified that training did little to address day-to-day interactions with Indigenous patients.

The first nurse to testify Tuesday said that on the evening before her death, Ms. Echaquan had asked to be restrained to the hospital bed while in an agitated state.

Ms. Echaquan’s relatives have testified they were shocked to find her body in restraints after she died. Family members have told the inquiry that Ms. Echaquan told them she didn’t like to be restrained at the hospital.

Dr. Jacques Ramsay, who is assisting Ms. Kamel, told the inquiry he had never heard of a patient asking to be restrained. The nurse, however, insisted that Ms. Echaquan had asked for the restraints, adding that the patient said they calmed her.

A nursing assistant who worked the day of Ms. Echaquan’s death said that before Ms. Echaquan’s death, she was oblivious to the concerns of the Atikamekw.

She recounted seeing a Facebook video Ms. Echaquan’s daughter published from the hospital – the contents of which are under a publication ban. “It was like watching her [Ms. Echaquan] die,” the nurse said in tears, noting she didn’t appear to be breathing. She added that she felt Ms. Echaquan’s death was preventable.

Story continues below advertisement

The last witness, an orderly who was working the morning Ms. Echaquan died, testified she has noticed Atikamekw patients filming more often during hospital stays since her death. Moments earlier, Ms. Kamel had lamented that people had to film to be heard in 2021.

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