Two nurses were terminated on Tuesday at a Joliette CLSC after Jocelyne Ottawa, who is Atikamekw, alleged that they had mocked and taunted her with racist insults.
The incident occurred last Friday (March 12) at an establishment in the same regional health network, Centre Intégré de Santé et de Services Sociaux (CISSS) de Lanaudière, where just six months ago, Joyce Echaquan died after she filmed staff at the hospital making racist and disparaging comments about her.
Ottawa, who was at the CLSC to change a bandage on her foot, told Radio-Canada this week that after one of the nurses saw her name on her file, she told her they would call her “Joyce for short.”
Further, she alleges that they asked her to sing them a song in Atikamekw and that one of the nurses took her cellphone away.
She later recounted her experience on Facebook and said she felt humiliated and intimidated.
Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador Regional chief Ghislain Picard was one of the first to speak out and condemn the incident.
“It’s completely unacceptable, especially in Joliette,” said Picard.
On Monday, the two nurses had initially been suspended without pay pending an investigation, but the management of the CISSS de Lanaudière confirmed that they had been terminated on Tuesday afternoon.
“I would like to remind everyone that discriminatory, racist and intimidating behaviours are unacceptable,” said Caroline Barbir, president and interim director general of the CISSS.
“They must be denounced and condemned. Anyone who does call on the care and services offered in the facilities of the CISSS de Lanaudière has the right to feel comfortable and safe,” she continued.
Babir said that the comments made by the nurses were a breach of the code of ethics and values of the organization. It also has a zero tolerance policy towards racist, discriminatory and intimidating behaviour, according to the statement provided by the health network.
Ottawa has yet to file a formal complaint.
“I am satisfied in the sense that I think the turnaround was quick, and action was taken right away. But I think it just really opens up the challenges we have collectively not only in Quebec, but us as First Nations in this fight against racism,” said Picard.
On Tuesday, Quebec’s Indigenous Affairs minister Ian Lafrenière told The Eastern Door that when he heard about the incident, he was appalled.
“I am extremely disappointed because we have done so much lately,” said Lafrenière. “We have been putting measures in place to help Indigenous Peoples get the services that they deserve.”
Babir said that the regional health authority would continue to work in collaboration with the Atikamekw community to ensure that the necessary measures and security of Indigenous communities are respected.
Details about the internal investigation are being kept confidential, and the CISSS de Lanaudière said it would not be giving any new interviews until it has concluded.
“My main concern is that Mrs. Ottawa receives the services that she is entitled to. We need to continue to put in place strong measures and training,” said Lafreniere.
Picard believes that recent government action, like having a member of the Atikamekw community as part of the board at the hospital, is a good step, but there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done.
The government made the announcement last month.
“On Tuesday I sent out a letter to the mayor of Joliette Mr. (Alain) Beaudry telling him that he needs to get involved.
“Even though hospitals and CLSCs are accountable to the government, the people using those services are citizens of Joliette, and he has a role to play” explained Picard.