Quebec’s Viens commission hears about Nunavik woman’s lonely death in Montreal

"You don't let your parents die alone"


Eva Papigatuk, right, talks to the Viens commission Sept. 5 about her mother's death and her own experiences as an interpreter in the corrections system. Joé Lance, left, accompanied Papigatuk. (SCREEN SHOT)

Eva Papigatuk, right, talks to the Viens commission Sept. 5 about her mother’s death and her own experiences as an interpreter in the corrections system. Joé Lance, left, accompanied Papigatuk. (SCREEN SHOT)

Eva Papigatuk came Wednesday to Quebec City so she could share a heartbreaking story about how her mother, who was born in an igloo and raised 11 children, died alone in April 2013 at a Montreal nursing home, some 2,000 kilometres from her home in Salluit.

“You don’t let your parents die alone,” Papigatuk told the Viens commission, which is looking at Quebec’s 15-year track record in providing health, social services, correctional services, justice, youth protection and policing to Indigenous Quebecers.

After suffering a stroke and an aneurysm, her mother had been medevaced south in 2008 for further treatment and was to return to Salluit later.

Or that’s what Papigatuk, her siblings and father were led to believe.

But, although no one ever told them, her mother was not slated to come home after hospitalization. Instead, she was bound for a long-care facility—in the South.

“We were never informed. Not one of us was advised that our mother was to stay in Montreal,” Papigatuk said during her testimony which was broadcast online in English and French.

After she was transferred to the nursing home, her mother, who spoke only Inuktitut, lost her right to a patient escort to be with her. As well, only six visits a year from family members back home would be covered—and Papigatuk said by this point, her father was too old to make the trip to see his wife alone. He needed an escort, so those six trips became only three.

There was also confusion about who was to pay for the nursing home: all accommodation and medication expenses had to be covered by the pension of Papigatuk’s mother, who had been taken in charge by the public curator, although as a beneficiary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, all expenses related to her mother’s care should have been covered.

After her mother told Papigatuk that a nurse at the facility had treated her roughly, Papigatuk, the sole family member living in the South, worried even more about the care being given to her unilingual mother, who was paralyzed on one side.

The only blessing: her mother had started to suffer from dementia.

But, had her mother been allowed to return home, she and her family would have kept her at home and set up a 24-hour schedule to watch over her, Papigatuk said.

“We don’t like an elderly person to be alone. It is not in our tradition,” she said.

Papigatuk said she’d like to see improved communication between Nunavik patients, their families and health and social service workers.

Papigatuk, who was accompanied at the hearing by her spouse, Makivik Corp. staffer Joé Lance, also spoke about her work with inmates in the correctional system.

When she started working as an interpreter, all Inuit had the right to an interpreter, but later only those who were unilingual did, she said.

But Papigatuk described how many inmates, even bilingual inmates, were confused by the system. Even when they spoke before the parole board, for example, they would freeze up.

She suggested that interpreters working in correctional services need more training, as well as more respect, given that interpreters perform an essential service for Nunavik residents who are in custody in the South.

Interpreters should be mandatory in every step of the way for Inuit in correctional services.

Lance added that there’s also a need for improved intercultural training for non-Indigenous workers.

After the testimony, Commissioner Jacques Viens, a former Quebec Superior Court Justice, thanked Papigatuk for sharing what he called a sad and painful story.

But Viens also said that change for the better is possible, citing the impact of previous testimony about Nunavik children sent south for medical reasons without their parents.

Since testimony at the Viens commission by emergency pediatrician Samir Shaheen-Hussain last March when he slammed the Quebec government policy that keeps parents off the Challenger jet that brings sick and injured children south to Montreal for medical care, there have been measures taken to change this situation, Viens said.

Since its creation in December 2016, the Viens commission has visited all Nunavik communities.

This November, Viens will produce recommendations on how to improve services in Nunavik and other Indigenous communities.

The commission will discuss these at public hearings in Kuujjuaraapik from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16 and in Kuujjuaq from Nov. 19 to Nov. 23.

It’s unclear whether a sudden change in staffing will affect the release of the recommendations: two lawyers with the commission, Christian Leblanc and Marie-Josée Barry-Gosselin, who were both present at Papigatuk’s testimony, resigned from the commission, effective Sept. 7.

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