The B.C. NDP government is refusing to disclose the budget for a review of the pandemic response, prompting one expert to call it a waste of time.
Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced March 16 that a trio of former senior bureaucrats would review the B.C. government response to the pandemic and report back this fall.
“This review includes decision-making processes, which will help as we prepare to review other sectors involved in this response and do even better when the next emergency happens,” said a statement from Emergency Management BC.
Instead of reviewers Bob de Faye, Dan Perrin and Chris Trumpy conducting public hearings, there is a questionnaire through April 20. Their terms of reference do not allow a review of the decisions made by cabinet and the provincial health officer.
“It’s an exercise in futility,” retired emergency physician Dr. Lyne Filiatrault said in an interview. “It is sham, it’s going to be nothing useful.”
Filiatrault is on the steering committee of the Protect Our Province (POP) BC coalition. In March 2003, she helped identify and contain the first case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) at Vancouver General Hospital in a patient who had returned from Hong Kong. She said there needs to be accountability for those in public health who discounted the airborne spread of COVID-19, in favour of so-called “droplet dogma,” and promoted public use of cloth masks instead of N95 respirators.
“The pandemic is a complicated problem and you cannot break the response in parts to try to simplify its evaluation,” Filiatrault said. “You need to have a multidisciplinary team to look at different aspects of the response. It has to be representative of the people that were affected.”
Filitrault said bad public health policy led to each successive wave of the pandemic and noted the NDP government’s lack of transparency, embodied by the Canadian Association of Journalists’ code of silence award for outstanding achievement in government secrecy.
She said a proper review needs to include experts such as aerosol scientists, engineers, and behavioural scientists.
“It can’t just be white privilege, prior public servants looking at the pandemic response, when they have no expertise, either, in diversity, equity and inclusion. So they’re not going to represent the voice of immunocompromised people, they’re not going to represent the voice of parents, with kids that weren’t being told about outbreaks in school.”
The standard for a pandemic review was set by the Ontario government, which struck a judicial public inquiry into the 2003 SARS pandemic, headed by Justice Archie Campbell.
Campbell, for instance, found Filiatrault and her cohorts at VGH were among those who did everything right to contain the virus and Ontario did not. His 2007 final report credited “robust worker safety and infection control culture, with better systemic preparedness” in B.C.
Campbell found Ontario’s response lacked proper communication, preparation, accountability and resources. His key recommendation was to adopt the precautionary principle across the entire healthcare system. “Safety comes first,” Campbell concluded. “That reasonable efforts to reduce risk need not await scientific proof.”
Mario Possamai was senior advisor to Campbell from 2003 to 2007. When he appeared on a POP national edition podcast in January, he said that B.C. would have been better off had public health officials relied on the precautionary principle in dealing with COVID-19.
“We were met with with hubris, with our infectious disease and public health leaders saying, ‘No, no, you’re wrong, we don’t have to worry about airborne transmission, surgical masks are okay, Plexiglas is okay,’” Possamai said. “And, you know, they’ve not apologized, and I hope the time comes when they finally apologize for what they’ve done.”
The Campbell report examined the role of public health officials, including B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. At the time, Henry was the associate medical officer of health for Toronto. Campbell’s report included excerpts from Henry’s testimony to the Ontario legislature’s Justice Policy Committee.
“I think one of the things we learn over and over again in a crisis is that you can never do just enough,” Henry told the committee. “If you stop the outbreak, you’ve done way too much and you overreacted; if you don’t stop the outbreak, you clearly didn’t do enough.”
In a Feb. 10, 2021 web conference clip shared widely on social media, Henry quipped: “I think there’s going to be lots of time — I’ve said this before many times — lots of time for the recriminations, the class action lawsuits, and the public inquiries.”
When it came time for one such inquiry, neither Henry nor her medical health officer subordinates participated. Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s October 2021 review of the pandemic’s toll on long-term care homes said Henry and others were invited for interviews in June and July 2021, “but were unable to participate due to urgent pandemic-related responsibilities.”
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