Justice for Joyce: How many more BIPOCs must disappear before you see us?

By in Opinions

I deeply distrust our healthcare system in Canada. What should be a place of care and recovery instead reeks with racism and discrimination, and this has always been the truth.

The death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw Indigenous mother of seven, reveals the systemic racism within our healthcare system. She livestreamed a video she recorded of herself, capturing two healthcare workers calling her stupid and that she’d be better off dead. In her final moments, Joyce Echaquan faced racism.

But Echaquan’s story is not the only one in the country. 

Brian Sinclair, an Indigenous man from Manitoba, died of a treatable bladder infection after being ignored for 34 hours in the emergency room of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre in 2008. In the inquest years after, witnesses testified that the staff had made assumptions that he was intoxicated, homeless and had nowhere else to go. Multiple nurses said that they did not see him despite a video showing the times they passed him by. In his final moments, Brian Sinclair faced racism.

Their stories are two among many that reveal how our healthcare system doesn’t work for all of us equally. They evidence the rampant systemic racism deeply embedded within Canadian healthcare systems, yet I see no effective measures being taken to intervene and mitigate these situations.

How many more Indigenous peoples must die in the hands of this system before something is done?

It is even harder to trust this health system because multiple studies have shown that racism intersects with and impacts mental and physical health. These studies also present ways to address the issue, yet I still wait to see a change.

Racism intersects with the health system in more ways than just with physical or mental health. The lack of race-based research to inform our healthcare is confounding, but more importantly, it impacts how BIPOCs are diagnosed and treated in our hospitals.

Black Canadian women are more likely to be under-screened for cervical and breast cancer due to the lack of health data on Black Canadians, even though data suggests that Black Canadian women are more susceptible to the worst outcome of these diseases. 

It has also been studied that BIPOC patients are more comfortable being diagnosed and cared for by BIPOC healthcare workers. This acknowledges the shared lived experiences between racialized communities, inlcuding that of racial discrimination.  

It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Racialized groups are more likely to experience poverty, affecting their health, education and job opportunities more than non-racialized people. Attaining education is a more difficult task for Indigenous and Black people who experience poverty. Without education, there are less healthcare workers of colour in the field.

The stigma around BIPOC communities’ mental and physical health, the lack of race-based health data and the ongoing racial discrimination puts Black, Indigenous, and people of colour at a higher risk in our healthcare. As a person of colour, I do not feel safe in this system.

I am more fortunate than others and have access to mental and physical healthcare facilities. I am more fortunate because I have not yet felt racial discrimination in my visits to the doctor. I am more fortunate because I have a roof over my head, food on the table and work that aids me in not living paycheck to paycheck. However, the question unnervingly remains.  

How many more BIPOCs must die and suffer before you see us?

There needs to be a change in our healthcare systems. Many studies have presented solutions, and they were conducted before Joyce Echaquan had to suffer. It is just a matter of acting now rather than never. 

J.C. Balicanta Narag | Editor-in-Chief