Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, today, as I walked up to Parliament
Hill, I could not help but think about the elders, people
and children living in remote First Nations communities in
northern Manitoba who were sent body bags by Health Canada.
It was a heartless act which dehumanizes First Nations
people. What kind of flu pandemic planning is this?
As a First Nations woman and a senator, I
was in a state of shock after hearing the news about the
body bags. I was overwhelmed with grief. It was as if
someone had taken a knife and driven it into my heart. What
was the government thinking? How would people feel if they
were worried about being infected with H1N1 and they were
sent a body bag to help them, indicating that their family
was going to die? What kind of message does this send to
First Nations people?
In my heart, the body bags send a
clear and strong message that the Government of Canada does
not care about the health, safety and well-being of First
Nations people. Sadly, it suggests the government is leaving
them to die.
What is needed is not a message that
the government expects them to die. Rather, what is needed
are preventative measures.
First Nations communities are faced
with limited health infrastructure and resources in place to
manage the spread of this pandemic. To get to the core of
this situation, we have to recognize that this is more than
a health crisis; it is a social disaster.
The shipment of body bags, hand
sanitizers and masks is not the solution to the health
problems of First Nations. This is about First Nations
people having access to clean drinking water, adequate
housing, healthy living conditions, and health services and
resources. If these basic principles were implemented and
available, First Nations people would be better equipped to
handle this H1N1 pandemic.
Will the Leader of the Government tell
us why Minister Aglukkaq has not apologized? Why were the
body bags sent to First Nations communities in northern
Manitoba? Have they been sent elsewhere? What plans does the
government have to prevent H1N1 in First Nations
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of
the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)):
I thank the honourable senator for the question. I can
absolutely identify with the feelings that she expressed
when news of this became known this morning. It is a very
sad situation that this shipment to the nursing stations,
which included many other items, as was pointed out, seemed
to contain a disproportionate number of body bags. While we
have not gotten to the bottom of it yet, it does not matter
what the explanation is. This is a very sad situation and I
am sure everyone is sorry this has happened.
With the indulgence of the honourable
senator, I would like to read into the record the Health
Canada press release and statement made today by Minister
Aglukkaq, the Minister of Health. As honourable senators
know, she is in Winnipeg attending a meeting of the federal,
provincial and territorial health ministers. She issued the
following statement this morning, which I will be happy to
table in both languages later:
For immediate release, from Winnipeg:
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq made
the following statement following reports that several body
bags had been delivered by Health Canada to a First Nations
community in Manitoba:
"During a conference call with First
Nations organizations yesterday morning it was brought to my
attention that there were reports out of Manitoba that
Health Canada had delivered body bags to a remote First
Nation community in that province as part of H1N1
preparations for the fall.
"What happened is unacceptable. It was
insensitive and offensive. As Minister of Health and as an
aboriginal I am offended. To all who took offence at what
occurred, I want to say that I share your concern and I
pledge to get to the bottom of it. I have ordered my Deputy
Minister to conduct a thorough and immediate inquiry into
the situation. I will make the result of the inquiry public.
I will continue to work with First Nations communities and
the provinces and territories to ensure all Canadians are
informed and protected against H1N1.
"I was born and raised in remote
communities and I understand the challenges better than
anyone — that's why I have met frequently with First Nations
organizations. Anyone suggesting that our Government's
solution to H1N1 is body bags is sensationalizing this
"There is strong cooperation taking
place with First Nations people at the community, regional
and national levels, as well as with provinces and
territories, to ensure that all Canadians are informed of
and protected from the H1N1 flu virus. As Health Minister I
am fully committed to these efforts."
Just to summarize for honourable
senators, I do believe that, — no matter where they live, no
matter what walk of life they are from, and no matter what
political party they belong to — all Canadians know that all
levels of government — federal, provincial, municipal, and
territorial — and public health care workers are doing
everything possible to prepare all of our communities, no
matter where they are, for the potential of the H1N1
If the government was so perfectly prepared and if all
Canadians were concerned, this would not have happened. It
shows a lack of planning. How well can Health Canada be
prepared to deal with this when they have sent these
packages out? It makes no sense.
Honourable senators, we should wait to see the results of
the minister getting to the bottom of this.
From what Dr. Butler-Jones said this
morning, supplies are being sent all across the country, but
particularly into First Nation health care centres. I do not
think it serves any of us to politicize a serious issue like
this, dealing with the H1N1 flu pandemic and its
implications for all Canadians.
The fact of the matter is this
situation happened. Obviously in Winnipeg, Health Canada
officials were preparing supplies. We should wait and see
exactly what happened and what was actually shipped, in
addition to these body bags. Let us remember that all levels
of government are working extremely hard.
Only yesterday, Minister Aglukkaq and
Dr. Butler-Jones issued the regimen for the distribution of
the H1N1 vaccine and the groups that will take priority. I
am sure honourable senators have seen the regimen. One of
those groups includes those who live in remote, contained
communities, many of whom are Aboriginals. Honourable
senators, I also wish to point out that in my own caucus,
both in this chamber and the House of Commons, are several
Aboriginal Canadians, starting with our Minister of Health.
I regret that one could think that anyone in government
would deliberately do something to offend, cause concern or
stress for any group of people, but particularly the peoples
of our First Nations — far from it.
Minister Aglukkaq has worked with the
new National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn
Atleo. When I saw him on the noon news I thought Chief Atleo
was responsible in making the point that governments and
communities must work together to resolve this problem. It
is reasonable advice.
This situation is an unhappy and
regrettable one for First Nations people, no matter who they
are, where they live, what party they may or may not belong
to. This issue should not be politicized. This is a serious
health issue. The government at all levels is trying to deal
The Minister of Health has received,
from all political parties, laudatory comments about how she
has stayed on top of this situation. I am particularly proud
of her because she is from the North and she understands.
The look on her face when she appeared on television should
have convinced anyone that she had the same concerns and
felt equally as hurt as Senator Dyck.