November 8, 2021
A year has passed since the story of Joyce Echaquan made international headlines as a clear example of systemic racism in the Canadian health care system. Recently, an investigation report was released identifying that racism was a contributing factor in her death. In the report, coroner Gehane Kamel wrote, “It is therefore my duty, as coroner, to do everything within my power to avoid having another member of the Indigenous community or any other origin receive care such as the kind that was offered to Ms. Echaquan … We have witnessed an unacceptable death, and we must ensure that it is not in vain and that we as a society have learned from this tragic event.”
The National Consortium for Indigenous Medical Education (NCIME) recognizes the existence of systemic racism in Canadian health care systems and is actively working to create change that will lead to culturally safe care. We know that this incident is not isolated and denounce in the strongest possible terms the treatment Ms. Echaquan suffered in hospital that ultimately led to her death. The NCIME supports the recommendations brought forward by Ms. Kamel to the Quebec government to recognize the existence of systemic racism and make a commitment to its elimination. Although this incident occurred in Quebec, we must acknowledge that this is a widespread and national issue. In 2008, a similar event in a Manitoba hospital resulted in the death of Brian Sinclair. In 2020, the In Plain Sight report released in British Columbia also acknowledged that widespread Indigenous-specific stereotyping, racism and discrimination exist in the B.C. health care system.
The NCIME, in partnership with leading organizations, is working to support Indigenous leadership and learners to create systemic change and inform the future of health service delivery. The Consortium is committed to creating positive change in the medical system by developing anti-racism policies and processes, fostering leadership development, and bridging gaps in education. The NCIME will transform medical education to ensure the next generation of physicians are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide high-quality, culturally safe care to Indigenous peoples.
We send our sincere condolences to the Echaquan family, the Sinclair family, and all who have experienced racism in the Canadian health care system. Indigenous peoples have a right to access safe health care and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.