Two Quebec nurses have been suspended without pay after allegedly mocking an Indigenous woman at a public clinic in Joliette, Que., northeast of Montreal.
The incident is alleged to have taken place on Friday in the same city where another Indigenous woman, Joyce Echaquan, died in hospital last September after she filmed staff making derogatory comments about her. That video was shared around the world.
Ghislain Picard, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, first publicized the most recent incident on Facebook, saying the nurses allegedly told an Indigenous patient they would call her “Joyce” in reference to the 37-year-old Atikamekw woman who died.
He said the Atikamekw woman was an outpatient at a CLSC and “was the subject of intimidation, mockery and harassment.”
“In the City of Joliette of all places!” he wrote on Sunday. “You would think they would have learned their lessons on how they treat Indigenous peoples!”
CISSS de Lanaudière takes action
In a statement released late Monday, the regional health authority, CISSS de Lanaudière, says it has launched an investigation into the matter.
Sophie Ottawa, a cultural security liaison officer for the health authority, has been asked to make contact with the patient.
Caroline Barbir, the interim head of the health authority, says she was shocked to hear about the incident and asked for the two employees to be quickly identified and suspended without pay.,
“The CISSS de Lanaudière has a zero tolerance policy for this kind of behaviour and we take these allegations very seriously,” Barbir said in the statement.
“It is everyone’s commitment to combat discrimination and racism and to make everyone feel safe when they visit our facilities.”
She says that while the patient did not file a formal complaint, she understands that members of the Atikamekw community lack trust in the province’s health system.
Barbir says she has asked a cultural liaison, hired as part of a series of measures implemented at the regional health authority after Echaquan’s death, to communicate with the woman and determine the facts.
Barbir said more than 4,200 CISSS employees attended a cultural safety awareness session, an approach put in place in November. She did not know whether the two nurses in question attended the sessions.
More sophisticated training has been developed in collaboration with the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue to educate more than 14,000 staff members about the realities Indigenous people face.
The training program is ready, but awaiting approval by the Atikamekw community of Manawan.
In Quebec, the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs said in an emailed statement that it is looking into the incident, but also that the alleged comments are unacceptable.