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Trudeau boosts help for Indigenous peoples, addresses long-term care homes crisis

Friday, May 29, 2020 @ 4:14 PM | By Terry Davidson

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced more than half a billion in additional COVID-19 aid for Indigenous communities but stopped short on what specific measures Canada’s government will take to help address deaths in long-term care homes.

In his May 29 address to the nation, Trudeau said Ottawa will be giving $650 million in new funding to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities for health care, income support and additional women’s shelters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

According to a federal government news release, a little over $285 million will go to support the ongoing public health response to the pandemic, including community-led responses and primary health-care resources.  

“These funds will go toward more nurses, will help procure specialized supplies and will support work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities on continued community-driven responses,” said Trudeau.

In addition, $270 million will go toward the On-Reserve Income Assistance Program to help people pay for essential living expenses. It will also mean the hiring of additional staff for the program.

“This money will support people living on-reserve who need help paying for things like groceries, cleaning supplies or rent,” said Trudeau. “A portion of this funding will also help First Nations communities continue to provide services, like skills training and support for people as they navigate federal benefits.”   

Finally, Trudeau said $85 million will go towards 12 new shelters for women experiencing violence. According to the release, 10 shelters will be built on reserves across the country and two new shelters will go up in the territories.

Trudeau also said he recently spoke with Canada’s premiers about the large number of pandemic-related deaths of seniors in long-term care homes, particularly those in Ontario and Quebec.

“We discussed the very concerning reports regarding certain long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec,” said Trudeau, who touched on  “deeply disturbing” reports from Canadian Armed Forces personnel brought in to help.

Since the health crisis began in March, Ontario and Quebec have both seen large numbers of pandemic-related deaths in long-term care homes, prompting the recent deployment of military medics to select facilities to assist.  

Earlier this week, military officers stationed in Quebec released a report detailing inadequate equipment and staffing. In Ontario, it was worse, with a report detailing how burned-out and poorly trained staff led to instances of neglect and, in some cases, cruelty.

“[What] the Canadian Armed Forces reported is deeply disturbing,” said Trudeau. “That any senior would face this kind of treatment is unacceptable, and, as I said to the premiers, our government will be there to support them as we work together to ensure that our elders receive the care they deserve.”

But when Trudeau was asked for specifics about whether there will be the development of national guidelines, he failed to fully answer the question. 

“We recognize fully long-term term care and senior care is a provincial area of jurisdiction, but all Canadians are united in wanting to see better support for our seniors right now and in the years to come. So, we have said at the federal level that we will be there to support the provinces … whether it’s more money or more resources or whatever it is that the provinces need to get control once again over their long-term care facilities.”

Trudeau was asked again for specifics, particularly when it comes to homes in Ontario and Quebec.

“We will be there to support provinces … that need help manage their long-term care situations, whether it’s Canadian Armed Forces in the short term, whether it’s more resources or more money in the medium and longer term. We recognize this is a provincial area of jurisdiction that they are in control of, but we also know that having certain provinces lose control of the safety of their seniors means we have to be there to support them as they regain control, and we will do that, but … there are a range of needs, a range of situations across the country, and one-size-fits-all from the federal government is not the best way through this.”

Trudeau was also asked about a possible relaxation of travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border for family reunification and whether such a thing is being seriously considered.

“We have taken unprecedented measures at the U.S. border to prevent non-essential travel … but there have been a number of stories in the media over the past weeks and things we’ve heard directly from MPs on families who have close family members who are separated because of citizenship at the U.S. border and we have been looking at ways of perhaps allowing close family members … of Canadian citizens or permanent residents to be able to reunite under strict conditions through a slight modification of the directives for the Canada Border Services Agency.”

The border has been closed to all non-essential travel since mid-March and is expected to remain that way until late June.

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