Chiefs furious after body bags sent to reserves
Published Wednesday, September 16, 2009 9:18PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 11:49PM EDT
Opposition critics and First Nations leaders are slamming the government after Health Canada shipped dozens of body bags to aboriginal communities in Manitoba that have been hit hard by swine flu.
Chiefs said the body bags were sent to a handful of northern communities where dozens had to be airlifted earlier this year.
"If this is preparedness, they're sending the wrong message to our communities. Who would do such a thing?" Grand Chief David Harper, representing Manitoba's northern First Nations, asked Wednesday.
"It's like sending body bags to Afghanistan for our soldiers. We've been asking for proper health institutions, proper health equipment. Instead, what do we get? Body bags. That's totally unacceptable."
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said at a flu briefing in Ottawa Wednesday that she too was disturbed by the move.
"I have ordered my deputy minister to conduct a thorough and immediate inquiry into the situation and I will continue to work with First Nations, provinces and territories to ensure all Canadians are informed and protected against H1N1," she said.
Aglukkaq said she only found out about the body bag shipments during the press conference and could not answer any more questions.
David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, called the body bags "unnecessary."
Opposition critics immediately slammed the move, saying it shows the government is unprepared in its flu response.
"This is an absolute disgrace. This is morally appalling," Liberal health critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett said in a news release. "Instead of flu-kits, instead of preparing and planning to get the vaccine on time - instead of planning to save lives - they spent their time planning on how to deal with the deaths."
Bennett is among the many critics who have expressed frustration with the government's slow response to help northern aboriginal communities deal with the H1N1 pandemic.
New Democrat MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis said she was angry that Health Canada refused to send hand sanitizer to reserves but is now sending body bags.
She said the move gives a poor impression about how Canada is preparing to deal swine flu if there is a larger outbreak.
Canada announced its priority list for vaccinations Wednesday, and those living in remote communities were on the list, alongside health workers, pregnant women and children.