Thousands march through downtown Montreal, calling for more accountability from the government
Thousands of protestors gathered on Saturday to demand action against systemic racism in Quebec after an Atikamekw woman, Joyce Echaquan, died at Joliette Hospital where she was racially abused by staff.
Mask-wearing demonstrators packed Place Émilie-Gamelin with drums, Indigenous flags and “Justice for Joyce” signs. Many were on bicycles, others pushed baby strollers. Protestors shuffled toward the speakers, all the while attempting to maintain a two-metre distance from each other.
The multilingual demonstration began with a prayer for Joyce. Buffalo Hat Singers were followed with a drum-pounding performance. Chiefs, local politicians, and Indigenous activists took to the stage to denounce the denial of systemic racism in Quebec public institutions and to call for a criminal investigation into the case of Joyce Echaquan’s death.
Cheers and chants of “justice for Joyce” punctuated remarks.
“I have spent the last few days wondering, am I next?” said one Indigenous speaker, fighting back tears. “Who’s next? I’m tired of hearing about intentions. We don’t want intentions!”
Manon Massé, co-leader of Québec solidaire, urged Premier Legault to engage with First Nations communities more respectfully and to put into practice the 142 calls to action listed in the Jacques Viens report, which in 2019 concluded that Indigenous people face systemic discrimination when trying to access public services in Quebec.
On whether political parties are working together in the National Assembly to address the issue of systemic racism, Massé told The Concordian that “The CAQ and the PQ don’t recognize that there is systemic racism [in] Quebec, [in] our institutions,” but she insisted that she is willing to work with other parties to advance change.
Jessica Quijano, who works at the Iskweu project and the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal said that the Indigenous community needs its own health centre.
“First Nations people often don’t seek medical attention because of systemic racism.”
However, she saw positives in the protest turnout.
“I think it’s hopeful to have this many people, but I always say that protests are dress rehearsals for what’s really to come.”
Jennifer Maccarone, the Liberal Member of the National Assembly (MNA) for Westmount–Saint Louis, had strong words for Premier Legault.
“I think he’s completely disconnected from the community he represents.”
She accused the CAQ of doing little to address racism in the province and acting without transparency.
“Joyce deserved nothing less than proper health care and respect,” she told The Concordian.
“You have to change the way people think,” Gregory Kelley told The Concordian, the Liberal MNA for Jacques-Cartier. He called for Quebec’s educational curriculum “to have more Indigenous content so people understand better who the Indigenous peoples of Quebec are and what are the challenges they face.”
The demonstrators observed a moment of silence for Joyce, then marched from Émilie-Gamelin toward René-Lévesque Boulevard and stopped at the Quartier des Spectacles. One nurse and one orderly have been fired from the Joliette Hospital, and three investigations have been launched. A GoFundMe page has been created for the family, and the Echaquan family is filing a lawsuit against the hospital.
Photograph courtesy of Joe Bongiorno