Federal ministers, Indigenous leaders plan to discuss systemic racism in health system

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says he plans to hold a high-level meeting of federal ministers and Indigenous leaders to address racism in the health system following Joyce Echaquan’s death in a Quebec hospital last month.

The meeting, said Miller, will include Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Justice Minister David Lametti and Minister of Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef.

“We do recognize, however, that this discussion requires the contribution of Indigenous partners and we will be reaching out to them today to convene an urgent meeting to address racism experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada’s health care system,” Miller said. 

Echaquan, 37, a mother of seven, died last month in a hospital in Joliette, Que., about 74 kilometres north of Montreal, after recording some of the last moments of her life on a video later released on Facebook.

The video captured Echaquan screaming in distress, along with the voices of staff members insulting her. Hospital staff are heard making degrading comments, calling her stupid and saying she would be better off dead.

“Everyone should feel safe when visiting a hospital or physician’s office. It is … therefore important to remind everyone that during this pandemic, keeping Indigenous communities safe, Indigenous people safe and healthy, is my utmost priority,” Miller said.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responds to a question during a news conference on October 8, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Miller said he and Bennett met with Echaquan’s family. He said that one of her sons got down on his knees to beg the two ministers to deliver justice.

“Carolyn and I should have got down on our knees and begged them for forgiveness for a system that failed them,” Miller said. “That’s what I remember from this meeting.”

A role for all levels of government

Miller praised the Quebec provincial government for launching inquiries into the incident but said all levels of government have a duty to respond.

“There’s a role for the federal government to play here, there’s a role for all governments and there’s a role for every Canadian in addressing systemic racism in our society,” he said. 

Why in the hell would I go and get a flu vaccine if I was going to be treated like garbage?– Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller

Miller added that he’s following the direction given to his department in the throne speech to “co-develop distinctions-based Indigenous health legislation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis and a distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategy.”

The minister also said that, despite reporting an infection rate that is one third that of non-Indigenous Canadians, Indigenous communities are now seeing increases in their COVID caseloads and the coming flu season will not make flattening the curve any easier. 

Miller said that over the last six weeks, the number of active cases in First Nations communities rose steadily from 19 to 98.

“Given what we have seen in the last two weeks, there is little doubt that the second wave of COVID-19 will hit Indigenous people harder than the first wave,” he said.

Miller said that while the flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu and flu-related complications, the uptake for the flu vaccine is lower for indigenous people that it is for non-Indigenous Canadians.

“Why in the hell would I go and get a flu vaccine if I was going to be treated like garbage?” Miller said. “You wouldn’t. You’d just say, ‘I am not going to do it.'”

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