On Saturday, my colleague Isabelle Hachey floored me with her column entitled “Sacrifice on the Altar of Virtue,” which dissects the spiral of confusion and awkwardness that led to the firing of two nurses from a CLSC in Joliette in March 20211.
Posted at 5:00 am
September 2020: Joyce Echaquan dies in the Joliette hospital overseen by the CISSS de Lanaudière. Atikamekw’s mother documents her death on video. The case forces a national consciousness, challenges the politician.
March 2021: Jocelyne Ottawa makes a Facebook status to denounce two nurses who she says mistreated her at CLSC de Joliette, also overseen by CISSS de Lanaudière. They encouraged her to sing, calling her “Joyce”. Mme Ottawa takes offense. Her status is going viral.
Everywhere voices are raised denouncing the situation. Politics is excited. It sells hard. First Nations Quebec-Labrador congregation is angry. Everyone remembers the death of Joyce Echaquan. In Joliette, in the same CISSS!
The CISSS de Lanaudière acts: bam, fired, nurses.
Case closed ?
Maybe not. The nurses appealed their dismissal to the Labor Arbitration Court. For a year, Isabelle Hachey attended hearings for eight days, bringing hundreds of pages of notes and…
And the story is more complicated than we thought.
What sealed the dismissal was the anger of the people, we find at the arbitral tribunal. Not the facts, not the context.
By treating Ms Painme Ottawa, the nurses interacted with her by … applying the lessons learned in an Aboriginal culture awareness workshop offered by her employer.
Jocelyne Ottawa even testified in court, saying she now regrets her words… and the nurses’ firing.
In short, a mess.
There are lessons for everyone in Isabelle Hachey’s story. I count myself among them. Isabelle includes herself, she had very harsh words for these two nurses in her chronicle, shortly after Jocelyne Ottawa’s Facebook status.
I am not saying that we always have to wait for the conclusions of the parity committee, the tribunal or the commission of inquiry. I say it’s on a case by case basis. Sometimes all the material is there – testimonials, confirmations, pictures, documents – to draw conclusions. And be outraged.
But in the case of Jocelyne Ottawa’s Facebook status?
We only had that: a Facebook status.
In the case of Joyce Echaquan, we had the images and words of contemptuous neglect, it was hard to ignore.
I understand the dynamic of popular anger that drives people out the window. Which has activists clamoring for accounts. And no doubt all these people are right nine times out of ten.
However, it seems that the story of the two nurses’ firing for “racism” towards Jocelyne Ottawa is THE time of ten that we were all in the field. I understand citizens who want change. I also understand the activists: this disenchantment with injustice sheds light on their reaction, for the tenth time…
I even understand the mental dynamics of the columnist living in the same society as his readers. I’ve already reflected a widespread anger, me too… Which prompted me to apologize for being in the field2.
Another time I resisted this widespread anger. It was the Camara case, named after that poor man falsely accused of attempting to murder a police officer in January 2021.
Everywhere it screamed for racial profiling. I wasn’t so sure. After checking, I became confident that racial profiling was out of the question3.
Later, an investigation by Judge Dionne will confirm that Mr. Camara was not a victim of profiling4. This does not mean the absence of police errors.
I remember the Camara case because at the time, popular anger almost demanded it be a case of racial profiling. It would have righted a thousand other previous injustices involving a thousand other blacks and a thousand other police forces…
Popular anger has always existed. Now boosted by digital mobs, it’s quickly becoming a tsunami.
In the storm, it’s up to institutions to find the strength and wisdom to resist when popular anger claims someone’s head.
Strength because it sells terribly in the offices of the institutions when popular anger is carried away. The crowd wants culprits, heads roll.
Wisdom, because sometimes, yes, heads have to roll, people are responsible. Sometimes it’s very clear.
And sometimes, no.
There is strength and wisdom in stepping back and deciding—on a case-by-case basis, I insist—which case we are dealing with this time.
Despite popular anger.