Op-ed: Ford’s COVID negligence borders on criminal

At what point should the government’s refusal to heed public health warnings in its response to COVID-19 be considered a crime?

I sent my kid back to school today. To say I am a little uneasy about that would be an understatement. I had no choice.

That’s because he was already enrolled in in-person learning and there is no opportunity to switch to an online class after the province’s post-holiday lockdown. Thousands of other parents are in the same boat.

I’m all for getting back to whatever semblance of normalcy we can during these unusual times. That’s why I was okay with in-person learning in the first place. But the emergence of the UK and South Africa COVID variants – and the fact they will be the dominant strains by this time next month – has shifted the ground. Sending kids back to school now feels a little like pushing them out of a plane at 30,000 feet with a faulty parachute.

Everything that can be said about the many ways the Ford government has fumbled its COVID response has already been said. It’s beginning to sound like a broken record. Maybe that’s the point so people will tune out.

Some of the government’s actions – in particular its mishandling of the virus in long-term care – has amounted to gross negligence. Others have described the Ford government’s failures as a violation of human rights. The Ontario Human Rights Commission, for example, has raised concerns about the Ford government’s pandemic response when it comes to which groups are being prioritized for treatment for the virus and which are at the front of the line for a vaccine. 

But at what point should the government’s negligence be considered criminal?

Ignorance is no defence in a court of law when someone is charged with a criminal offence. And it can’t be said the Ford government doesn’t understand the risks posed by COVID-19. They’ve been warning us from the beginning about impending doom if we don’t take the appropriate precautions to protect ourselves. But talk is cheap. Still, Ford continues to say one thing and put people in harm’s way.

The province’s refusal to reinstate paid sick days despite repeated calls from public health experts that it’s crucial to beating the virus is putting thousands of Ontarians at risk.

Throughout the pandemic, the Ford government has put the economy ahead of the health of Ontarians. Its decision to drag us through serial lockdowns has not only exposed more people than need to be to the virus, but it’s also causing untold damage to peoples’ mental health, the fallout from which we may be feeling for years to come. 

Now kids are being put in the path of danger even while the latest modelling points to a potential disaster in the making with the rise of the highly contagious B117 COVID variant. 

Stay-at-home orders are still in place in Toronto, Peel and York, the province’s hardest-hit areas. But it’s unclear if those restrictions will stay beyond February 22, when they’re scheduled to be lifted.

Public health experts say those restrictions should stay in place for another two to four weeks with kids going back to school, to make sure the daily case counts continue to head in the right direction. Daily case counts are on the decline, but as we’ve learned from other waves, that’s mostly a mirage.

The “R number” (aka as the reproduction number) measuring the spread of the virus is still hovering around 0.8 in Ontario. That’s lower than the 1.0 considered dangerous. But experts tell us it will need to come down to 0.4 or so to keep the virus at manageable levels for the inevitable third wave that’s coming thanks to the new variants.

More than 6,700 people have died of COVID-19 in the province. The devastation continues in long-term care.

The premier, meanwhile, has gone in recent weeks from blaming the feds to guilt-tripping Ontarians about the province’s high daily case counts. How well we get through the current wave will be up to us, he said at a recent press briefing. Where exactly does the government’s responsibility begin on this?

It’s quite the deflection for a premier that started the pandemic proclaiming that the province has got our backs and will leave no stone unturned, while still refusing to spend some $6 billion in federal government aid for COVID response. 

The Ford government is probably not the worst government in Canada when it comes to its handling of the pandemic. That dubious distinction must go to Alberta.

But tracing and isolating cases continues to be a challenge, residents in long-term care homes continue to die and ICU beds are still well above the 150 threshold (it has been hovering at around 300 for some weeks) deemed manageable.

Vaccine supplies will still not be arriving in large enough numbers to provide a layer of protection for Ontarians until the middle of March. There’s still no plan – at least not one we’ve been made privy to – on what the vaccine rollout will look like. And with the worst yet to come, our kids are being sent out into the thick of it.

Operators of private long-term care homes have already been hit with class actions alleging negligence. Hopefully, we won’t be headed for a similar situation with the Ford government’s decision to send kids back to school. All it would take is one death and we’d be having an entirely different conversation.


Comments (5)

  • Mario M igliazza February 17, 2021 01:29 AM

    I think that Mr. Enzo DiMatteo does not have any idea about what he is talking about.

    Extensive lock-downs do not put the economy ahead of the health of Ontarians – it is the other way around.

    Stay-at-home orders are still in place in Toronto, Peel and York, the province’s hardest-hit areas. But it’s unclear if those restrictions will stay beyond February 22, when they’re scheduled to be lifted??? Of course, it is unclear – We are not yet at Feb. 22 and the government needs to see where we are at, in order to decide if the restrictions can be eased or need to be extended. I do not believe that Ford has been issued with a crystal ball as of yet.

    The “R number” (aka as the reproduction number) at 0.8 is very good and it is going in the right direction.

    The premier, has every right to blame the feds – they are responsible for dropping the ball in obtaining sufficient vaccine supplies with timely delivery. The premier should be guilt-tripping Ontarians – too many idiots throwing large parties and ignoring restrictions – it is really up to us to get through this – and to do that, the public needs to observe restrictions. The government can only set the rules – the public has to follow them.

    There’s still no plan on what the vaccine roll out will look like?? The province announced on Sunday that all long-term care home residents have received the first shot of the vaccine. Hillier said the province has vaccinated around 10 per cent of the population who are over age 80 as part of the phase one plan to vaccinate high-risk Ontarians, namely long-term care and retirement home residents. On Monday, Toronto officials said all staff and residents of long-term care homes in the city will have had the opportunity to receive their second vaccine doses by February 16. There are 87 such facilities in Toronto, including the 10 city-run care homes. I think that is a pretty good plan.

    Rather than just criticize without first reading the news, can Mr. Enzo DiMatteo come up with a better plan? I don’t think so!

  • Connie February 17, 2021 10:04 AM

    Thank you for your article.. I am tired of finger pointing and deflection when the province has a responsibility to make sound decisions to protect Ontarians and the people we love.

  • St.Paul February 17, 2021 12:29 PM

    Im not taking any chances

  • gary cranmer February 17, 2021 02:19 PM

    Thorough and convincing. Ford indebted to developers, against high speed rail, EV buses and cars.

  • Sam Sibells February 18, 2021 12:16 PM

    Ford locks down the province as the health experts recommend but he is negligent. He calls out the thousands of people who partied and spread the virus and is killing people to this very day, but he is the bad guy. He calls out the federal government to do something about the airports and it is done but Ford is the bad guy. Our PM gets us at the back of the priority line for vaccines due to trying to negotiate something with a country(China) determined to punish us but I am sure Ford could be blamed somehow. I don’t see much difference in other jurisdictions in terms of what has happened in long-term care facilities except in our neighbouring New York state where COVID positive patients were put in old folks home killing thousands. Now that might be criminal negligence.

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