Jocelyn Ottawa said she was treated with disdain by two nurses at a clinic in Joliette, about 70 km northeast of Montreal, when she went to have a bandage changed last Friday. Both nurses were fired on Tuesday. (Radio-Canada)

Nurses said to have verbally abused elderly Quebec Indigenous woman are fired

Two nurses at a Quebec health clinic have been fired as an investigation continues into what happened last Friday when an elderly Indigenous woman went to have a bandage changed.

Jocelyne Ottawa, 62, told Radio Canada she was left “humiliated and intimidated” by the behavior of two nurses at the clinic in Joliette, about 70 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The incident occurred in the same regional health network where, last September, Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, died in a local hospital after she filmed staff making derogatory comments about her–a video that was seen around he world and sent shock shockwaves across Quebec and Canada.

The CBC’s Alison Northcott reports on the latest incident and the fallout:

“One of them told me, when she saw my name in the folder: “We’re going to call you Joyce, for short,’ Ottawa said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

“Then they asked me if I could sing them a song in Atikamekw.”

Ottawa said that one of the nurses took her cell phone and that, when Ottawa realized it was missing, the nurse said: “I have it in my hand.” Ottawa told her: “You have no business looking at my cell phone.”

“I told myself: ‘Why are they saying this to me? Is it to mock Joyce, once again?'” Ottawa told Radio-Canada.

Joyce Echaquan, who died last September after video-recording some of her last moments in a Joliette, QC hospital, was the mother of seven children. (Facebook)

“The regional health authority, the CISSS de Lanaudière, which operates the clinic, initially suspended the nurses without pay pending an investigation.

In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, the health authority said the nurses had been fired.

“The comments made by the two employees showed a disregard for the code of ethics of the nursing profession and the code of ethics of our organization,” Caroline Barbir, the interim head of the CISSS de Lanaudière, said in the statement.

Two nurses at the health-care clinic in Joliette (shown) where Ottawa were for treatment have been dismissed. (Radio-Canada)

“The CISSS de Lanaudière has a zero-tolerance policy about behaviour that is racist, discriminatory and intimidating. I want that message to be heard loud and clear.”

“I am outraged by the discriminatory and racist behavior suffered by Ms. Ottawa.” 

The CISSS said it is actively working with the Council of Atikamekw of Manawan to put in place the measures necessary for the cultural security of the indigenous community in the region .

The grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation, Constant Awashish, is frustrated and angry over the latest incident at the health-care clinic in Joliette. (Radio-Canada)

What happened to Ms. Ottawa has left Grand Chief of the Council of the Atikamekw Nation Constant Awashish frustrated, angry and wondering if any change is coming.

“Despite the few announcements from the government, it is always the government’s ideas, he laments, this is what the government wants to do, but it is never listening to the communities or the chiefs. Never listen to their proposals,” he told Radio Canada.

Quebec’s Indigenous affairs minister, Ian Lafrenière, said Tuesday it was clear more work must be done, but maintained the government’s controversial position that systemic racism does not exist in the province, according to CBC News’s Benjamin Shingler.

Ian Lafrenière is the minister responsible for Native Affairs for Quebec. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)

“Change will take time and training will need to be implemented across the province and even then, attending a course won’t solve everything,” Shingler reports Lafrenière saying.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so shocked. I’m so disappointed … Can we guarantee that it won’t happen again? The answer is no.”

Joyce Echaquan’s death, following racist remarks, last year at the hospital in Joliette, led to calls for Indigenous people to have equitable access to health and social services without discrimination. (Radio-Canada/Ivanoh Demers)

The two nurses who were fired were among more than 4,200 CISSS employees who attended a cultural safety awareness session, an approach put in place in November. Further training is planned for health-care professionals across the province.

With files from Radio-Canada (Mathias Marchal), Espaces Autochtones (Anne-Marie Yvon), CBC News (Benjamin Shingler)

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