Canada's systemically racist healthcare system

Muslim Taseer unpacks the systemic racism of Canada's healthcare system that has sparked recent outcry among Indigenous people

Muslim Taseer
3rd November 2020
Last month, reports emerged from Canada that would make even the most jaded person angry. In Joliette, Quebec, a small city northeast of Montreal, as an Indigenous woman lay in her hospital bed, her French-Canadian nurses hurled horrific verbal abuse at her. "Stupid as hell," she is called. She grimaces in agony as two nurses go back and forth, humiliating her as she struggles to continue living. "You've made some bad choices, my dear," one says. "What are your children going to think seeing you like this?" She calls for help, saying that they've drugged her, she clearly feels unsafe. She is screaming in pain, when one of the nurses says, "That's better off dead, there." We only know this because as she laid there in agony, she live-streamed the encounter on Facebook Live. Joyce Echaquan wasn't fluent in French, and would record hospital visits to allow her cousin to interpret for her. Echaquan died shortly after the video was live-streamed.

The story gets worse. Echaquan went in on the 26th of September for stomach pains. On the 28th, she was given morphine, despite her telling the doctors she would have an adverse reaction to it. Later the same day, she died. It is quite obvious from this set of facts that her death was caused in no small part by her doctors refusing to take onboard patient history. It cannot be overstated how bad practice this is.

Hearings into her death are slated to take place in 2021. The Premier of Quebec, however, has already denied that there is any systemic racism within the healthcare system. “I really don’t think that we have this kind of way of dealing with First Nations people in our hospitals in Quebec. Yes, there is some racism in Quebec. We’re working on that.” The nurses were 'dismissed,' but faced no further consequences.

Indigenous peoples all over Canada have faced the same, or worse.

Joyce Echaquan was a mother of seven from Manawan, a First Nations reserve in Quebec. She was an Atikamekw, the original inhabitants of the Nitaskinan region. Their homeland appropriated for logging companies, the Atikamekw way of life is almost extinct, and their populations stands at just 8000 people. This story isn't unique, either. Indigenous peoples all over Canada have faced the same, or worse.

The most vile and directly deadly form of this discrimination manifests itself as an unequal healthcare system for Indigenous people.

French colonialism of Canada was horrific, as colonialism is. But it isn't over. Its legacy and residual effects still exist. No reparations have been made for the brutal oppression of the First Nations people. In fact, Indigenous people are still discriminated against. The most vile and directly deadly form of this discrimination manifests itself as an unequal healthcare system for Indigenous people. They're repeatedly not listened to by healthcare professionals, and the worst is always assumed about them.

Extent of France's colonial empire

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Doctors of the World Canada president David-Martin Milot describes the situation: "[They] think that this person will be automatically violent, aggressive, [and] will put forward a diagnosis which presumes an intoxication with psychoactive substances."

When the patient is not respected, their sense of what's wrong is ignored. When they aren't listened to, the best care can not be provided. Misdiagnoses are rife, and this in turn makes Indigenous communities trust the healthcare system less, meaning they use it less and are more often in emergency situations.

Overall H1N1 statistics for Canada; darker areas represent higher numbers of cases

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Joyce Echaquan marked a turning point though. This rotten system killed her, and the people will not forget it. Indigenous communities are coming together, organizing and becoming self-determined, a strategy that has helped them deal with COVID quite well. Learning from the lessons of the H1N1 pandemic, Indigineous leaders quickly closed borders and an initiative began to collect Indigenous-specific data on infection rates.

This is the first step to tackling the issue, talking about it and making it impossible to deny.

Additionally, they're speaking up, relating their sour experiences with the healthcare system. This is the first step to tackling the issue, talking about it and making it impossible to deny. Systemic racism kills, is an issue, and it will not be fixed if its existence is denied. Laying bare this horrific disease makes it so that it cannot go ignored, and will hopefully ensure that Joyce Echaquan didn't die in vain.

Featured Image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images / 29580 Images on Pixabay

(Visited 9 times, 1 visits today)
AUTHOR: Muslim Taseer
Comment Sub-Editor and Co-Founder of The Toon Lampoon. Regular Contributor to multiple sections. Shameless Plug; I also make music under the moniker "sickhoop"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ReLated Articles
magnifiercross
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap