Confusion over the province's new COVID-19 rules prevented Patricia Joan McGarry's daughter from attending her funeral Monday.
"I missed my mother's funeral and I did not need to," McGarry's daughter, Anne, said Tuesday. "This kind of behaviour from the government is unacceptable. These announcements affect people's lives in profound and unimaginable ways... thousands of lives are disrupted and affected by these orders. They need to be right."
When McGarry, 93, died last Tuesday, the province's rules restricted funeral attendance and gatherings to 10 people.
On Friday, provincial chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced tighter restrictions in response to rising case numbers in Winnipeg to be imposed Monday. They included limiting gatherings to five people.
The province's website reflected the public health order, indicating the changes were to go into effect Oct. 19 at 12:01 a.m. But sometime during the weekend, the information was altered, indicating the order would go into effect Oct. 19 at 11 p.m.
Anne said she looked at the province's website Saturday and saw the province's order was to be in effect Monday just after midnight.
"It was clear as clear can be," she said, adding she started looking for the province's actual order, but couldn't find it.
And just prior to Monday's service for her mother, she asked the funeral home director and church minister whether more family members could be allowed and was told the number was five.
"The funeral director even said they had received information that morning from the (Manitoba Funeral Service Association) reminding funeral directors about limiting funerals to five people. We accepted that only four of the six grown children could attend," she said, adding the fifth individual was a hired videographer so that family living outside the city could view the service.
"We're seven months into this pandemic. You would have thought they have everything straight now."
A provincial spokeswoman said in a statement the government understands the public health measures through the pandemic "have been difficult for all Manitobans.
"As a result of needed clarification surrounding liquor licences, the formal public health orders were signed on Monday afternoon and officially came into effect at 11 p.m.," the statement said.
"However, the intent was always that those in the Winnipeg metropolitan region would reduce gathering sizes to five effective Monday morning in alignment with the restrictions as announced on Friday of last week."
Kevin Sweryd, president of the Manitoba Funeral Service Association, said the memo went out to his members after seeing the notice on the province's website clearly stating when the order would be in effect.
"That's news to me that it was 11 p.m.," Sweryd said. "When I reviewed the order I saw 12:01 too. I was going under the best information that I had at the time."
Sweryd said his association has questioned the attendance restriction orders for funerals throughout the pandemic and wants to work with the government so more people could be allowed to attend with proper physical distancing and masks.
"Right now you could go to a church service on Sunday, with groups of 50 cordoned off, socially distanced, wearing masks and, depending on the size of the church, have up to 500 people or 30 per cent of capacity. Then, on Monday, if there is a funeral there, only five people would be allowed.
"What is the reasoning? We want to keep the public safe, but also help them when they need it."
Patricia McGarry was born in England and lived through the blitz during the Second World War, at times having to hide under the family’s dining-room table.
After the war, McGarry became a nurse with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps and, while posted at a base hospital in Japan, helping casualties from the Korean War, she met her husband, Patrick, a doctor.
The couple got married in 1952, later immigrated to Winnipeg, and had three daughters and three sons. Patrick died in 2002.
McGarry is also survived by 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.