Current Problems

Health (18-24)

3 years after Joyce Echaquan’s death, loved ones reflect on what’s changed — and what hasn’t

September 28, 2023

Health board appealing ruling to reinstate orderly fired after Echaquan’s death 

Two women, one wearing a bright purple t-shirt and the other a white shirt with a purple flowery skirt, sit on a window ledge.
Lorraine Echaquan, a cousin of Joyce Echaquan, and Regine Dubé, a friend of the Echaquan family, said Joyce Echaquan’s smile used to spread joy. (Julia Page/CBC)

CBC News: Three paintings of women wearing braids and purple headbands in their hair with the words “Justice for Joyce” adorn the windows outside the Centre d’amitié autochtone de Lanaudièrein Joliette. 

Sitting on the porch at the friendship centre Thursday morning, Lorraine Echaquan and Regine Dubé remember the 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven who died exactly three years ago at the Joliette hospital just one kilometre down the street.  “She loved taking care of her children,” says Echaquan, a cousin of Joyce Echaquan’s. “She was always smiling. I’ll always remember her smile.”

Dubé, who is not related but had known Joyce Echaquan since she was a child, recalls the shock she felt on the day Echaquan died on this day in 2020. She, too, thinks often of her friend’s smile. “It will always be with me,” said Dubé. 

The two women had been preparing food in anticipation of a vigil and march, starting at the centre and ending at the hospital, that evening. Carol Dubé, Joyce Echaquan’s husband, was expected to give a speech at the vigil.

Lorraine Echaquan says the three-year anniversary of her cousin’s death is bittersweet. Much has changed for the better since Joyce Echaquan died of a pulmonary edema on Sept. 28, 2020 at the Joliette hospital as she filmed a nurse and orderly hurling insults at her as she lay in pain, she said. 

A woman stirs a pot of meat and vegetables on a stovetop.
Regine Dubé prepares food at the Centre d’amitié autochtone de Lanaudière in Joliette, where a vigil is being held Thursday evening in honour of her friend Joyce Echaquan. (Julia Page/CBC)

Among those changes, the health board overseeing the hospital hired Guy Niquay as associate CEO. Niquay is also a community leader in Echaquan’s home community of Manawan.

The community also established the Joyce’s Principle Office, which lobbies for the adoption of a document community members presented to the Quebec and Canadian governments after Echaquan’s death.

The Joliette friendship centre opened a small clinic, offering the community a wider variety of options. The Quebec government also increased its funding of the centre and tabled a bill that would enshrine cultural sensitivity into the health-care system, but the bill led First Nations leaders to walk out of the National Assembly earlier this month due in part to the government’s continued refusal to acknowledge systemic racism. The bill mentions Joyce’s Principle but the government has not officially adopted it.

And on Thursday, CBC News learned the health board was appealing an arbitrator’s decision ordering it to reinstate the orderly who insulted Echaquan. 

But the memory of what happened to Echaquan is still fresh, as is the loss of her presence to loved ones. “The hospital is more careful,” Lorraine Echaquan says, adding in the same breath: “I definitely don’t go there, though.”

Fear of the Quebec health-care system among Indigenous people remains — and so do prejudices in the non-Indigenous community, says the friendship centre’s executive director, Jennifer Brazeau. 

“There’s a lot of ignorance within the general population that we need to work on,” said Brazeau.  

A woman in a jean jacket sits on a couch in front of windows on which Indigenous women with beads in their hair were painted.
Jennifer Brazeau, the executive director of the Centre d’amitié autochtone de Lanaudière, sits by the centre’s windows which were painted by a staff member in honour of Joyce Echaquan. (Julia Page/CBC)

Still, since Echaquan’s death in 2020, Brazeau says the centre’s non-Indigenous partners have stepped up and become more active. 

Echaquan’s bravery continues to inspire

The centre’s members, too, have been emboldened and motivated to reinforce the importance of Indigenous-run services. 

The day Echaquan died was a turning point, said Brazeau. 

“It was a day that really exposed a lot of the issues that our members lived,” Brazeau said. “Her bravery and being able to expose the situation that she was living in the last moments of her life was something that was super powerful for us.”

The vigil Thursday evening featured speeches from Chief Sipi Flamand of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, Jennifer Petiquay-Dufresne, executive director of the Office of Joyce’s Principle, Grand Chief Constant Awawish of the Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw, as well as Brazeau. 

“I believe that Joyce’s death has raised and continues to raise awareness of systemic racism. This is the first step in breaking down barriers to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of all Indigenous Peoples,” Petiquay-Dufresne said.  “The work is not over, and unfortunately many are still afraid to go to health-care facilities, but today’s march nourishes hope for a better future,” Awashish said.

There were also musical performances by Manawan-born artists, Mikon Niquay Ottawa and the Black Bears Singers.

At the Joliette hospital hours earlier, Maryse Poupart, the CEO of the Lanaudière health board, said the day is one of sombre reflection.  “We have a duty of memory in honour of the family, who suffered something unacceptable. We also have a duty of remembering in order to take action. It’s an important moment,” Poupart said. 

Niquay, the associate CEO who was appointed two years ago, says it was his father’s dying wish last year for him to continue helping vulnerable people. He says he’s always on call for patients whenever they need him and is in constant contact with Indigenous community groups. 

A portrait of a man with a beaded medallion in his office with a dream catcher hung in the background. On the right, a portrait of a white woman at a desk with a miniature wooden canoe sitting behind her.
Guy Niquay, the associate CEO of the Lanaudière health board, left, is also an Atikamekw leader and was hired following Maryse Poupart’s, right, appointment as CEO of the health board in 2021, following Joyce Echaquan’s death Sept. 28, 2020. (Julia Page/CBC)

“The way I see it, I can’t tell someone, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow morning.’ Tomorrow morning is too late, so that’s how I’ve worked — no matter whether it’s day, night, the weekend, I’m here when people need me,” he said. 

Other changes at the health board include an Atikamekw representative on the board of directors and the addition of a dedicated room in the hospital where families can gather and where patients can have questions and concerns answered by a full-time administrative assistant. 

Two liaison officers have been hired and the services of an interpreter are available.

Health board balks at reinstating fired orderly

In the interview with CBC, Poupart revealed the health board is appealing the tribunal decision calling on it to rehire the orderly fired after Echaquan’s death. In August, an arbitration tribunal ordered the Lanaudière health board to reinstate Myriam Leblanc, who was dismissed in 2020.

Echaquan filmed Leblanc and a nurse berating her and making degrading comments as she was lying, in pain, in a Joliette hospital bed. 

Poupart said the health board is refusing to rehire Leblanc, who, with her union, had challenged the dismissal to the arbitration tribunal, called the Tribunal d’arbitrage du grief. “Our view is that the worker’s words are in signification opposition to the organization’s values — in particular, those of goodwill and respect,” said Poupart, who has been CEO since 2021.

A woman wearing a purple headscarf with an image of Joyce Echaquan on it and the words "Justice for Joyce" stands among a crowd at night light up by candles.
Hundreds gathered outside the Joliette hospital Thursday night, where Joyce Echaquan died three years ago. Echaquan was a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, who died of a pulmonary edema as she was filming a nurse and orderly hurle insults at her. Her death drew outrage and condemnation across the country. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Brazeau, of the friendship centre, says that while the relationship between Indigenous leaders and advocates with the health board has improved, she’d like to see more structural changes to ensure that progress isn’t reversed once people like Poupart and Niquay move on from their roles. 

“It’s going to take a willingness from people who work within those spaces to be able to change how they’re working concretely on the ground, and to be able to make sure that we leave a legacy that’s changed within the whole entire network,” she said. 


Julia Page, Journalist

Julia Page is a radio and online journalist with CBC News, based in Quebec City.

With files from The Canadian Press