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The province’s chief medical examiner is being asked to call an inquest into the COVID-19 deaths of Manitobans in personal care homes.

"We have a law in Manitoba that requires the chief medical examiner to call a public inquest to find out what has happened — what’s gone wrong in our personal care homes that we’ve lost Manitobans in deaths that, quite frankly, were avoidable," NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said Thursday.

The MLA for St. Johns wrote to Dr. John Younes asking him to convene an inquest as soon as possible.

Under the Fatalities Inquiries Act, the medical examiner can call an inquest when deaths occur due to a contagious disease that is a public health threat and when deaths occur in a facility or institution.

With more than two dozen care home deaths in Manitoba from COVID-19, an inquest is warranted, said Fontaine, who called on the Tory government during question period to support the call.

"When we’re looking at personal care homes, what we’ve seen is a failure to protect residents and staff," Fontaine told reporters during a scrum. "It’s incumbent on the premier to find out why."

However, it is the families who’ve lost loved ones that need to lend their voices, said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.

"What you need is a specific family case to call an inquest," the MLA for St. Boniface said. "We’ve been reaching out to people to see if there’s anyone willing to do that. We need to know what happened."

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said there will be plenty of time for asking questions later, but now is not the time for an inquest.

"I know, and we all know, that, in the aftermath of COVID-19, for years there will be questions answered and I am sure that our systems will learn. We are learning every single day about COVID-19," he said.

"I would suggest our best efforts right now are better spent on preparing our health-care system, talking to doctors and health-care providers, on reconstituting our workforce and reorienting our hospitals to be able to provide that care."

Fontaine wasn’t swayed.

An inquest would allow the chief medical examiner to subpoena witnesses, briefing notes, and communication about policies and procedures, "so we can get a broader perspective of what’s been going on in response to COVID-19," she said.

"It provides accountability and transparency for families whose loved ones died alone, and whose families were not able to say their goodbyes," she said. "It’s the least the Pallister government can do to encourage the chief medical examiner to call an inquest.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography