Cultural security | Quebec must “move forward,” says former judge Jacques Viens

2023-09-13 16:07:25

(Quebec) Despite the barrage of criticism, Quebec must “move forward” with its bill aimed at introducing cultural security in health, believes former judge Jacques Viens. However, he warns the Legault government that their efforts will be undermined if it does not recognize systemic discrimination against First Nations.



“Regarding Bill 32, I am of the opinion that it is necessary and should move forward,” argued the man who chaired the Commission of Inquiry on Relations between Aboriginal Peoples and Certain public services in Quebec, known as the Viens commission. The investigation report tabled in 2019 concluded that Indigenous people were victims of “systemic discrimination” in Quebec public services.

Four years later, former judge Jacques Viens – who has not granted any interviews since – has difficulty explaining why the Legault government still refuses to recognize the existence of systemic racism. At the very least, he said, he should recognize the Joyce Principle, stated by the Atikamekw Nation in the wake of the tragic death of M.me Echaquan.

“I have had the impression for some time, and even more so after listening to all the other speakers since [mardi]that it will not be easy to move forward […] unless the government of Quebec agrees to recognize, like everyone else in the province, from now on systemic discrimination and the Joyce Principle,” underlined Mr. Viens, by videoconference.

According to him, the “laudable intentions and efforts” of Minister Ian Lafrenière will be constantly undermined if he does not recognize “the basis of the problem”.

It seems to me that if we moved on this, well, we would have a basis and the government would seem much more inviting when it wants to co-create things […] You have to start somewhere, with something that is obvious.

Jacques Viens, former president of the Viens commission

Jacques Viens presented some amendments to be made to Bill 32 which aims to establish the cultural security approach in the health and social services network. He himself recommended in his report to embed the concept in the Act respecting health services and social services.

Difficult consultations

After facing criticism from doctors on Tuesday, the minister responsible for First Nations and Inuit faced a major obstacle on Wednesday: the Office of the Joyce Principle slammed the door on the parliamentary committee. “I am more proud of Quebecers than of their government,” explained the general director, Jennifer Petiquay-Dufresne.

She read a 10-minute presentation before announcing to parliamentarians that she and her team were leaving the committee without participating in the discussion period. The minister did not react and remained on site. His Liberal Party colleagues left the room looking for answers.

Mme Petiquay-Dufresne testified Wednesday about his “discomfort” in participating in the exercise. “We were deeply uncomfortable with the government approach that we observed [mardi] in the first rounds of consultations, as well as the responses given [par le ministre aux intervenants] “, she argued during a press scrum after her release.

However, it is precisely in the wake of Joyce’s death Echaquan at the Joliette hospital, in September 2020, that the Legault government has made a commitment to legislate to establish the approach to cultural security across the health and social services network.

We had a deep unease to see Minister Lafrenière mention Joyce’s name excessively while objecting to his cause for his needs and his political designs. We, if we use Joyce’s memory in this way, it is because there must be concrete repercussions.

Jennifer Petiquay-Dufresne, executive director of the Joyce Principle Office

The Office of the Joyce Principle was officially established last summer. Adopted after the death of Joyce Echaquan, the Joyce Principle “aims to guarantee to all Aboriginal people a right of equitable access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services, as well as the right to enjoy the best possible standard of living physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Ian Lafrenière said he “understands” their decision to leave the consultation. “It’s obvious that with all the criticism I have received, I will look at how we can get closer to what is requested,” replied the minister.


PHOTO EDOUARD PLANTE-FRÉCHETTE, LA PRESS

Minister Ian Lafrenière

The Legault government refused to adopt Joyce’s principle since the document asks Quebec to recognize systemic racism. Since Tuesday, participants in the consultation, such as the College of Physicians and Innu surgeon Stanley Vollant, have reminded Quebec of the need to recognize systemic racism to truly tackle the heart of the problem.

For the moment, only the preamble of the bill mentions “the demands of the Joyce Principle”. The Liberal MP, André A. Morin, wants Quebec to go further by enshrining it in law. Another complaint heard in committee is that the Joyce Principle is not reflected in the legislative text.

No question of going back, says Lafrenière

The Joyce Principle Office asked Minister Ian Lafrenière to abandon Bill 32 and co-write future legislation with Indigenous people, an option the minister ruled out on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“There is an urgent need to act, notwithstanding all the technical considerations of how we consulted, how we should do it. I agree because we must improve, but we must act,” argued Mr. Lafrenière.

Mr. Lafrenière assures that he consulted the main groups representing the First Nations before tabling his bill. According to Mme Petiquay-Dufresne, this “consultation” was clearly insufficient. The chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, has already indicated that he will not participate in the commission, judging that the bill is “disrespectful”.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Vigil in memory of Joyce Echaquan at Place Émilie-Gamelin, in Montreal

What is cultural security?

Cultural safety refers to care that is offered while respecting the cultural identity of the patient, in particular. The objective is, among other things, to increase Aboriginal people’s feeling of security towards public health services. The report of the Commission of Inquiry into Relations between Aboriginal Peoples and Certain Public Services (the Viens Commission) recommends that the government modify the Health and Social Services Act to embed the notion of cultural security, in collaboration with indigenous authorities.

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