Systemic racism, when the government pretends to sleep

The failure suffered by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government during the hearings on Bill 32 (PL 32) on cultural security within the health network was resounding. The chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, Ghislain Picard, boycotted the hearings, citing “contempt for our inherent right to self-government.” The Office of the Joyce Principle slammed the door to “denounce the colonial practices still present in the government”.

These reactions should not surprise anyone. In June, I mentioned in these pages that by tabling PL 32, the CAQ depoliticized cultural security – a tool of self-determination – and ignored a rigorous process which should have led to its development.

Beyond the question of cultural security, the Public Protector And THE College of Physicians of Quebec (CMQ) — not exactly apostles of the dangerous “radical left” fantasized about and decried by the leader of the Parti Québécois who had to moderate his remarks in a letter — have, among several others, urged the government to recognize systemic racism and to adopt the Joyce Principle. The president of the CMQ seriously mishandled the minister responsible for Relations with First Nations and Inuit: “in medicine, after evaluation, we make diagnoses and then we offer the patient a treatment, a course of action, etc. So, in the diagnosis, for me, there is the recognition of a problem. … We are uncomfortable with the situation, but you seem uncomfortable with the word.”

In its political opinion concerning PL 32, the Atikamekw Council of Manawan emphasizes that this recognition is not a “semantic debate”, but rather “an issue that is real for indigenous peoples in Quebec and Canada”. Indeed, many stakeholders in the health system can testify to the avoidable harm and unnecessary suffering — sometimes even leading to death — fueled by systemic anti-Indigenous racism that is well-rooted in Canada and Quebec.

It is for these reasons that the CAQ’s stubborn refusal to recognize systemic racism for years exasperates me. In fact, as I explain in the introduction to my book No more indigenous children taken away. To put an end to Canadian medical colonialism (Lux editor, 2021), the idea of ​​writing it came to me precisely because François Legault, newly elected Prime Minister of Quebec, continued to deny the reality of systemic racism in Quebec, just as he had been doing for at least 2017, when he was the leader of the second opposition group.

In the book, I explore medical colonialism, defined as “a culture or ideology rooted in systemic anti-Indigenous racism and using medical practices and policies to establish, maintain, or advance a genocidal colonial project.” . I have endeavored to simply lay out the facts by relying on a large number of sources, including Canadian and Quebec government commissions and inquiries (sometimes led by indigenous authorities), as well as numerous academic historical works, in order to present genocidal crimes perpetrated against Indigenous children by the health care system in Canada, including in Quebec.

Researching and writing the book was an exercise in humility: although I considered myself relatively educated on the history of medical violence, including that experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada, I was me – even shocked to learn of the existence — historical and contemporary — of certain practices, policies and laws within the framework of medical colonialism. Young indigenous people were often targeted: medical experiments, forced sterilizations, kidnappings and disappearances, and so on. As a pediatrician, I was horrified to learn that doctors were often leading the charge.


The Prime Minister has changed his mind on key commitments, notably the reform of the voting system and the third link, but the CAQ remains stuck to its dogmatic and ideological position – which a myriad of empirical facts and scientific studies confirm. yet untenable — by denying the existence of systemic racism in our health care system. This demonstrates an absolute disregard not only for the history, reality and resilience of Indigenous peoples, including children, but also a denial of the dark sides that form the roots of the Canadian medical profession and our health system.

In March 2021, my publisher sent a copy of the book, published with contributions from Cindy Blackstock and Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel, to the Prime Minister.

Regarding Mr. Legault’s position, Wanda Gabriel, Kanien’kehà: ka from Kanehsatake and then professor of social work at McGill University, made an important observation in an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network: “When leaders affirm that systemic racism does not exist, they allow people and professionals to continue with discriminatory practices.”

Since 2018, I have made hundreds of presentations (including during the Viens commission and the public inquiry of coroner Géhane Kamel) and media interviews in Quebec, Canada, but also internationally. Members of the public, but particularly speakers, teachers, and researchers in the health field, told me on many occasions that they were simply not aware of the scope of this reality of medical colonialism. and that we absolutely must act to change the status quo.

Arundhati Roy, a renowned Indian author and activist, once quoted in the villages of the Narmada River Valley: “You can wake up someone who is sleeping, but you cannot wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep. » While the population is truly waking up to take into account these realities that have been ignored or hidden for too long, the CAQ government continues to pretend to be asleep. It is the indigenous peoples, but also all of Quebec society, who suffer from their pretended sleep.

The rest, tomorrow: “Let’s move forward together, for Joyce”

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