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Readers respond: Silenced (July 25) and Auditor-General To Probe Lapse In Pandemic Warning System (July 30)
Historically, the value of lives of ordinary citizens has always proven to be cheap, but I think Canadians should be able to expect, at minimum, that their own federal government would not deliberately put their lives at risk. Grant Robertson’s reporting proves to Canadians like me that they cannot expect even the minimum of duty of care owed to them by their government, and the muzzling of the Canadian Global Public Health Intelligence Network is proof enough.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Michael Garner, former senior science adviser at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said: “Not to be overdramatic, but Canadians have died because of this.” There is nothing “overdramatic” about the truth, and I thank Mr. Garner for his bravery in telling it.
How many more examples of the federal government’s dereliction of duty to Canadians have to occur before it will be held to account?
Victoria Masnyk Stratford, Ont.
If we think the WE Charity fiasco deserves a royal commission, this well-researched article made my blood boil. For the sake of a few million dollars, it seems Canada gave up its role as the world’s early warning system.
If it is shown that Canada could have saved thousands of deaths by keeping this department fully operational, heads should roll.
Philip Beaudoin Beaverton, Ont.
In a world that values human lives more than money, the real scandal roiling Parliament Hill would have nothing to do with WE Charity. It would instead be focused on the devastating dismantling of Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network, as meticulously (and damningly) reported by Grant Robertson.
There will likely never be a final accounting of this scandal, but as the article concluded: “Not to be overdramatic, but Canadians have died because of this.”
Murray Reiss Salt Spring Island, B.C.
This is an impressive exposure of what happens when a specialized group of experts are dismantled at the behest of bureaucrats and politicians for meagre savings. The outcome was one of the worst disasters affecting this country in recent history.
I sincerely hope an investigation recommends a reversal of this absurd decision and highlights how such decisions are made, so as to prevent another disaster affecting our country in the future.
Wasseem Moussa MD; Cornwall, Ont.
As someone who worked in public service for 40 years, I read the story of the evisceration of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network with a familiar sick feeling. From my experience, the GPHIN, and Canadians, are victims of two practices that have become established over the past few decades.
The first is to cut budgets at all costs. Governments throughout Canada have followed the dictates of wealthy individuals and corporations who want democratically elected governments to be as small as possible, and who do not want to pay taxes.
The second is the belief that agencies can be “effectively” (that means cheaply) managed by individuals who have no expertise in the service to be delivered. In most cases, the people who suffer most from these practices are Indigenous, racialized, poor, elderly, disabled or otherwise marginalized.
In this case, we have all suffered. Will we learn something?
Judith Keene Toronto
Perhaps Canadians are still entitled to some residual sanctimoniousness relative to their putatively unscientific American neighbours. But Grant Robertson’s excellent reporting should make us realize that our public-health bureaucrats seem not all that more sophisticated.
This crisis has already forced us to acknowledge the disgracefully inadequate level of care we provide our seniors, to say nothing of our obedience to the World Health Organization’s dubious counsel. Add to this the dismantling of our pandemic early warning system, plus nearly 9,000 deaths in our country, and it looks very much as though we need a public inquiry. This should not happen again.
David Sinclair Montreal
One wonders what impact the silence of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network may have had on the World Health Organization’s lack of good information early in the pandemic and its over-reliance on input from China. The fallout from that has had obvious international consequences, as well as Canadian ones.
It seems to me that this is the real scandal that deserves much more attention than the WE Charity tempest.
Dianne Cox Ottawa
Distracted by the sensational, we ignore the important. Grant Robertson’s superb and disturbing report on the silencing of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network should generate torrents of outrage. I had never heard of the GPHIN, but it is clear that, for decades, this small handful of Canadian public servants saved many lives around the world with its early warning system.
In contrast, the WE Charity “scandal” is everywhere, fairly simple to understand, easy to cover and lovely to gossip about. Car crashes are interesting; safe road design less so. The GPHIN’s day-to-day task of labouriously picking through mounds of data is profoundly unexciting. The fatal decision of the government to effectively neuter GPHIN isn’t very sexy. It is, however, exactly the type of mundane decision that we rely on government to get right.
The bureaucrats involved were likely praised, maybe even rewarded, by their superiors. Without pillorying anyone, we should know how this error was made and take steps to improve the odds that others like it can be avoided.
Howard Goodman Toronto
I am shocked to learn that the government took such a poor view of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network’s ability to identify global pandemics, it cancelled the capacity to provide early warning to the World Health Organization and countries around the world.
Taxpayers could look at this decision and ask: If an earlier response to COVID-19 had been taken, could Canada’s 7.7-per-cent death rate (as of July 30) have been cut in half, so that it would be similar to countries such as Germany (4.4 per cent), Japan (3.1 per cent), Norway (2.8 per cent) or Portugal (3.4 per cent)? How wonderful it could have been for 4,000-plus Canadians to still be with their families.
This potential saving of lives would have cost Canadian taxpayers about 12.5 cents each to pay for GPHIN’s $2.5-million budget. Who would question a few cents to save thousands of lives?
Those who made the GHPIN decision should be removed from office.
Gordon Nicholls Kitchener, Ont.
There are governing politicians and there are research-driven scientists. The former should no longer have control over the latter, as this mismanaged pandemic crisis has shown.
Grant Robertson’s reporting reveals a tragedy: the political choices made by bureaucrats to undo, ignore or silence the essential work of our top scientists and doctors in critical roles of investigative warning systems and pandemic preparations. Going forward, Canada should create a highly specialized, completely independent body of scientists and experts to predict, prepare for and manage health crises.
Politicians have no business playing doctor.
Jill Kannegiesser Toronto
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