March 6th, 2020
MP Ashton calls out failure to include Indigenous Services Minister from COVID-19 committee
Drafted letter with NDP Leader Singh and MP Davies demanding action
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Dear Prime Minister,
It is with great interest that we’ve monitored your government’s response to the global outbreak of COVID-19.
In preparing for a potential outbreak here in Canada, it is vital that we do not repeat the mistakes that were made in response to the H1N1 flu virus outbreak, particularly when it comes to First Nations living on reserve.
As you will recall, the federal government was unprepared to meet the unique challenges faced by Indigenous communities during the H1N1 outbreak. Consequently, First Nations in Northern Manitoba were forced to issue state of emergency declarations in order to divert funds to help stop transmission of the virus. First Nations on reserve were already at higher risk of infection due to a lack of running water and inadequate housing.
As a result, the H1N1 outbreak disproportionately affected First Nations and Inuit. The average infection rate across Canada was 24 per 100,000, while First Nations in Manitoba were infected at a rate of 130 per 100,000. In Nunavut, the infection rate was 1,070 per 100,000.
To date, we have seen little evidence to indicate the federal government has learned from these mistakes. Public health officials have advised individuals to avoid transmission of the novel coronavirus through measures such as frequent hand washing, self-isolation, and social distancing. This is sound, evidence-based guidance. Unfortunately, it is of little assistance to First Nations communities without running water or adequate housing.
Moreover, in creating a new Cabinet Committee on COVID-19, your government has excluded the Minister of Indigenous Services. In our view, this oversight demonstrates an insufficient focus on the health and safety of Indigenous people. After all, for First Nations peoples living on reserve, health care is predominately the federal government’s responsibility.
We therefore call on you to appoint the Minister of Indigenous Services to the new Cabinet Committee on COVID-19, and work in full partnership with Indigenous communities to prepare for a potential outbreak of COVID-19.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.
Jagmeet Singh, MP
Leader, Canada’s New Democrats
Niki Ashton, MP
Don Davies, MP
NDP Health Critic