When is systemic racism NOT systemic racism? When you live in Quebec?

Oct. 5, 2021 The Guardian – “The death of Joyce Echaquan was an “undeniable” example of systematic racism in the province, the Québec coroner Géhane Kamel told reporters… she believed Echaquan would probably be alive today if she were white, adding that “large sections of our society deny such a well-documented reality” that systemic racism is pervasive.

Géhane Kamel, the coroner who released her report into the death of Joyce Echaquan is not alone in believing that systemic racism is pervasive within the Québec health care system.

So do the following:

  • The “Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec: listening, reconciliation and progress” Final Report ” (the Viens Commission) made 142 Calls to Action to address entrenched issues of racism and discrimination against Indigenous people within many segments of Québec society
  • The MMIWG Final Report Volume 2 – Quebec stated “The Institut national de la santé publique du Québec [INSPQ; Quebec public health institute] published a document that acknowledges the inadequacy of the services provided to Indigenous peoples and the discrimination described by the women who testified before the National Inquiry”.
  • The MMIWG Final Report also highlighted the disappearance of approximately 200 Indigenous children from Québec hospitals from the 1940s through the 1970s including the hospital where Joyce Echaqaun died.
  • Anne Panasuk appointed a special adviser to Québec on the issue of the missing Indigenous children (above) who said on June 9, 2021 that she believes systemic racism exists in the province. Ms Panasuk will advise the government on Bill 79 “An Act to authorize the communication of personal information to the families of Indigenous children who went missing or died after being admitted to an institution”.
  • Québec’s Human Rights Commission condemned the “systemic discrimination suffered by Indigenous Peoples, particularly in the health sector.” Echaquan’s death, president Philippe-André Tessier said in a statement, serves as a “tragic reminder of this reality and of the need for concerted and sustained action to address it.”

And finally look at the “Government Action Plan for the Social and Cultural Development of the First Nations and Inuit 2017-2022 that states: “The Aboriginal nations are experiencing significant social problems that stem from a history marked by iniquity, attempts at assimilation and systemic racism…the government understands that its intervention must hinge on a comprehensive perspective that incorporates all dimensions of life in society: health, social services, education, justice, public security, gender equality and complementarity, housing, employment, youth, culture, languages, citizen involvement, and so on.”

Just like the 142 Calls to Action of the Viens Commission – across multiple sectors of society.

So given the widespread acceptance and acknowledgement that systemic racism exists in Québec – as it does in all the other provinces and territories – what does Premier Francois Legault say after the coroner issued her report into the death of Joyce Echaquan: he steadfastly denied that systemic racism exists in the province. Legault said he was “shocked” by Echaquan’s “unacceptable” treatment – but he denied it was an example of systemic racism.

In fact, he even went one step further. On November 24 – just two months after the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Joliette hospital while enduring racist taunts, verbal abuse and sub-standard care at the hands of nursing and hospital staff – the Legault government refused to adopt a Liberal motion to recognize Joyce’s Principle, “a call to action, aiming to ensure Indigenous people have equal access to “the highest standard” of government-run health services. Drawn up by the Atikamekw nation – Joyce Echaquan’s home community – it calls for Indigenous care without discrimination to all health and social services and the recognition of Indigenous traditions.”

The government took exception to the reference to systemic racism and refused to adopt Joyce’s Principle as a result.

Premier Legault seems to have forgotten that only one year earlier on Oct. 2, 2019 he stood in the provincial legislature and publicly apologised to the Indigenous people of Quebec “for discrimination they suffered in dealing with the state” (CBC). The public apology was the first of two key recommendations from the “Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec: listening, reconciliation and progress: Final Report (the Viens Commission):

Call for action 1: Make a public apology to members of First Nations and Québec’s Inuit for the harm caused by laws, policies, standards and the practices of public service providers.

The mandate of the Viens Commission was to make recommendations to be implemented by the Gouvernement du Québec to prevent or eliminate, regardless of their origin or cause, any form of violence or discriminatory practices or differential treatments in the provision of the following public services to the Aboriginals of Québec:

  • Police Services (13 Calls for action)
  • Justice Services (16 Calls for action)
  • Correctional Services (18 Calls for action)
  • Health and Social Services (34 Calls for action)
  • Youth Protection Services (30 Calls for action
  • Tracking Mechanism (5 Calls for action)
  • Other (26 Calls for action)

Jacques Viens’ conclusion: “It seems impossible to deny the systemic racism experienced by First Nations and Inuit people in their relations with the public services investigated.”

Call for action 2: To National Assembly – Adopt a motion to recognize and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Québec

On Sept. 14, 2018 François Legault, when he was the Leader of Coalition Avenir Quebec and not yet premier, in a letter to Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) stated that a CAQ government would implement UNDRIP with the full collaboration of Indigenous peoples. Two years later on Aug. 14, 2020 Premier Legault reversed his position due to fears that it will force the government to give Indigenous groups a veto on all economic projects…citing a risk to the integrity of the province and the right of Quebec’s self-determination” (CTV Aug. 14, 2020). As AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard observes: “Demanding for yourself (self-determination) what you deny to others (Indigenous self-determination) is absurd.”

So much for the Viens Commission Call for Action 2!

Where else has the Legault government opposed acknowledging systemic racism against Indigenous people?

Nov. 12, 2020 – NationTalk – Meeting of Federal, Provincial, Territory Ministers responsible for Human Rights

24 civil society groups attending the third ever meeting of Federal, Provincial, Territory Ministers responsible for human rights “condemned the obstructive attitude of some governments” in advancing international human rights obligations. The government of Quebec opposed included references to “systemic” racism in the final communiqué, a position that blatantly ignores the undeniable reality of deeply-rooted systemic racism in the province and across Canada, and thus reaffirms systemic racism as a nationwide reality.

May 17, 2021 – Refusal of the Québec government to participate in a federal study on free and informed consent and imposed sterilization, including obstetric violence, among First Nations and Inuit women in Quebec.

The Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue and the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission in collaboration with several partners gathered within a regional committee, call on everyone to participate in research jointly with:

  • Council of Elected Women of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador
  • Quebec Native Women, 
  • the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association
  • the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec
  • Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec
  • the Office of Senator Yvonne Boyer
  • the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services and
  • the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay 

Why the resistance to developing a realistic data-informed picture of a practice that if validated, needs to be addressed and dealt with. Without the data to inform decision-making, what possible hope is there of eliminating a problem that is racist, discriminatory and fits one of the criteria that defines genocide – imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

What about systemic racism that is based on economics?

Aug. 5, 2020: NationTalk – For nearly a century, six Innu, Atikamekw and Anishnabeg communities have borne the brunt of successive hydroelectric developments that have allowed Quebec to prosper at Indigenous people’s expense over the failure of the Quebec government who never consulted or even compensated the Indigenous groups for exploiting their territories.

Currently, 36% of the total hydroelectric power installed by Hydro-Québec comes from Innu, Atikamekw and Anishnabeg traditional territories, protected by ancestral and treaty rights that have never been respected. In total:

  • 33 production structures
  • 130 dams and dikes
  • 10,400 km2 of reservoirs
  • tens of thousands of kilometres of transmission, distribution and road lines have been illegally installed.

All the above without any compensation to the Indigenous groups most impacted and on whose territory all this development took place.

Oct. 6, 2020: Canadian Press – The Innu of Labrador have filed a lawsuit against Hydro-Quebec seeking $4 billion in compensation for the ecological and cultural damage caused by the damming of the upper Churchill River in the early 1970s.

Senior Innu leaders said Tuesday the provincially owned utility illegally took land from the Indigenous group without consultation in the late 1960s as construction started on the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in central Labrador. “Hydro-Quebec has made billions of dollars from that contract, (but) it has not paid us a single penny for the damage to our land or damage to our lives, and to our people,” Grand Chief Etienne Rich told a news conference in St. John’s. “We are extremely disappointed in Hydro-Quebec’s refusal to take responsibility for what they have done to our people and our land. 

The massive hydroelectric project led to the creation of the Smallwood Reservoir, which flooded 6,500 square kilometres of traditional Innu territory, destroying fishing and hunting grounds, caribou habitat and ancestral graves, Rich said

The reality is that five First Nations in Québec, the Innu of Pessamit, the Atikamekw of Wemotaci, and the Anishnabeg of Pikogan, Lac Simon and Kitcisakik, have joined the Innu Nation of Labrador to oppose Hydro-Quebec’s massive new power transmission corridor to the United States – again without any compensation to the Indigenous people most impacted.

So is the bottom-line issue really about systemic discrimination in Québec society or more about protecting the Québec nationalist government and business elites against a massive lawsuit that at its heart is really about endemic discriminatory practices that enrich Québec at the same time that it impoverishes Indigenous people.

Finally, let’s leave the last word to the people of Québec who according to a Léger survey of non-Indigenous Quebecers​ commissioned by the Assembly of the First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL):

  • 70% of those who have an opinion are of the opinion that, currently in Quebec, First Nations are not treated on the same footing as non-Indigenous Quebecers in social structures (i.e. systems)
  • 92% of non-Indigenous Quebecers think that First Nations are subject to racism or discrimination in Quebec
  • 80% of respondents consider that First Nations people face additional obstacles in the different facets of their lives
  • 91% of respondents believe that the Quebec government has an important role to play in achieving and maintaining equality between First Nations and non-Indigenous Quebecers.

Does systemic racism exist in Québec? You be the judge.

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