Thirteen years after Brian Sinclair died due to neglect, negligence and racism in a Winnipeg hospital emergency room, an investigation has concluded another Indigenous person died in a Canadian hospital for the exact same reasons.
On Oct. 1, coroner Géhane Kamel released her report into the Sept. 28, 2020, death of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year old Atikamekw woman, in a Quebec health-care facility.
"From the first minute she entered the hospital, a label was placed on Ms. Echaquan," Kamel stated.
On Sept. 26, 2020, Echaquan checked into a hospital in Joliette, Que., complaining of a heart condition. Medical staff quickly classified the mother of seven as suffering from opium withdrawal, even as her complaints suggested something else.
They later administered her morphine, even as she worried about her allergies.
As she writhed in agony, staff ridiculed her, telling her she was only good for sex.
"Are you done acting stupid?" one asked.
"You made some bad choices, my dear," another added. "What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?"
Echaquan, who livestreamed the horrific experience via her cellphone, died soon after of a pulmonary oedema — something that could have been prevented.
Asked if it would have made a difference if Echaquan was "white," Kamel responded: "I think so."
Unlike the "official" inquest into Sinclair’s death Sept. 21, 2008 — which refused to look at racism as a cause and featured then-Manitoba chief medical examiner Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra claiming Snow White "would have got the same treatment under the same circumstances" — Kamel’s report was clear in pointing out the cause: systemic racism.
Kamel’s main recommendation: for the Quebec government and Premier François Legault to acknowledge systemic racism exists.
Legault, who admitted Echaquan did experience racism during her time in care, responded to Kamel by continuing to deny systemic racism exists in Quebec.
Speaking like a Grade 10 student writing a term paper, Legault stated: "(The dictionary) defines ‘systemic’ as: ‘relative to a system in its entirety.' For me, a system is something that comes from above. Take, for example, the health-care system. Is there something from on high that is communicated everywhere in the health system that says: 'Be discriminatory in your treatment of Indigenous people?' It’s evident for me, the answer is no."
Of course, nowhere in the Quebec health-care system does it say to take care of Snow White, but I am 100 per cent certain she would never be told she’s stupid and only good for sex, or die while waiting 34 hours for help like Sinclair did.
Legault clearly has no idea — or doesn’t want to have an idea — what systemic racism is.
It’s the normalization of the dehumanization of a group of people based on their race.
It’s clear to everyone Quebec has a problem with racism in all of its systems, and this doesn’t start with Bill 21 — the law that forbids some civil servants (teachers, police officers among them) from wearing religious symbols at work.
It goes back to then-premier Jacques Parizeau’s accusation of the "ethnic vote" in the 1995 Quebec referendum.
Before that, Quebec’s racism existed in the abhorrent violence during the 1990 crisis at Oka and the century of events that led to that moment.
The problem with systemic racism in Quebec, Manitoba or anywhere else in Canada is not the evidence of it but the denial of its obvious conclusion.
Or, as Kamel states of her report: "It is unacceptable that large sections of our society deny such a well-documented reality."
The death of Joyce Echaquan wasn’t caused by a couple of "bad apples" but the racism in the system that trained, hired and maintained the employment of those who taunted a patient as she lay dying.
Or, in the case of Brian Sinclair, the fact he wasn’t considered a human by virtually anyone in the Health Sciences Centre emergency room.
There aren’t any bad apples in the federal government’s continual discrimination against First Nations children on reserves, charges legislators have been found guilty of numerous times by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Trudeau government refuses to pay compensation for. If these children were "white," they would have their money by now.
The main problem Canada needs to face — beyond the fact this country’s leaders seem to want to deny or ignore systemic racism exists — is racism is getting very expensive.
Sinclair’s family sued for $1.6 million (a case that is ongoing).
Echaquan’s family is expected to sue for multiples of that amount.
The question is perhaps not how long it will take for Canadians to do the right thing but be shown the affordable thing: to accept systemic racism exists and eradicate policies and processes that create doctors, nurses and health administrators that discriminate against Indigenous and other racialized peoples.
Money is something even Snow White could understand.
Racism comes with a price for all.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.