Joyce Echaquan’s Life Matters: Addressing the Deadly Pandemic of Anti-Indigenous Racism in Healthcare

Oct 9, 2020

People across the globe are reeling from the horror of seeing Joyce Echaquan’s dehumanizing treatment within the Canadian Healthcare system. The Anti-Indigenous Racism, lack of Indigenous cultural safety, and shocking cruelty caught on camera by Joyce Echaquan herself before her death, have shaken both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities’ faith in our healthcare system.

Primary care is a cornerstone of our health care in Canada. At the Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM), addressing and eradicating Anti-Indigenous Racism is a strategic priority. It is imperative that all DFCM faculty, staff and learners are all aware of this focus, as the impact of primary care on our healthcare systems and patient outcomes is profound.

We must all work to understand the roles we play in perpetuating a status quo in which Indigenous peoples and communities continue to experience significant healthcare disparities. Racism and ignorance can and do kill. We must work to create cultural safety for Indigenous peoples within our practices, hospitals, residency programs, and clinical encounters to end preventable death and morbidity.

DFCM is working on strategies that will lead us on a path towards equity and justice for Indigenous peoples and communities. As we do this work centrally, it is imperative that this work is also done on an individual level. Centuries of segregation and separation have contributed to a gap in knowledge, empathy, equality and wellness between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Joyce Echaquan’s life matters. Her family matters. Her children and her community matter. The Atikemekw Nation of Manawan, where she is from, have called for immediate action to address the deadly pandemic of Anti-Indigenous Racism in healthcare. The Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association has called for universal Indigenous Culturally Safety Training in healthcare. The Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network (TAHSN) have committed to deliberate and urgent action to address Anti-Indigenous Racism in learning, research and clinical environments, taking guidance from Indigenous communities. The Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada has called on all leaders and individuals to act on the several reports and recommendations of the Viens Commission, the MMIWG Inquiry and the TRC Commission. There have been calls for criminal charges for the healthcare workers involved in her disparagement.

To honour and respect the wishes of those who loved Joyce Echaquan, DFCM re-commits to our efforts in Reconciliation and Equity. We send our deepest condolences to Joyce Echaquan’s family and community.

Dr. Suzanne Shoush, Indigenous Health Faculty Lead
Dr. Onye Nnorom, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Lead
Dr. Janet Smylie, Indigenous Health Research Lead
Dr. Katherine Rouleau, Vice Chair, Global Health & Social Accountability
Dr. David Tannenbaum, Interim Chair


Further reading

  • Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network Statement on Anti-Racism
  • Justice for Joyce – public reports and evidence briefs complied by WellLiving House
  • “Racism in the Medical System goes beyond a few bad apples” a Globe and Mail article by Dr. Janet Smylie, Diane Smylie and Dr. Lisa Richardson."To eradicate Anti-Indigenous discrimination in hospitals, we need to recognize and fight it the same way we do infection. We need leaders who label it as a preventable and life-threatening organizational challenge, and who promote cross-system extermination, ongoing vigilance and prevention. We need action, including co-ordinated systems-level responses that hold individuals and institutions accountable”