Judge from Walkerton, Collingwood inquiries to lead Ontario probe into COVID-19 deaths
Published Wednesday, July 29, 2020 1:31PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 29, 2020 7:56PM EDT
A judge who was involved in both the Walkerton and Collingwood inquiries has been tapped to lead Ontario's inquiry into nearly 2,000 deaths in the long-term care system attributed to COVID-19.
Justice Frank Marrocco of Ontario's Superior Court of Justice will lead the commission of inquiry into the spread of the novel coronavirus in the province's 626 long-term care homes.
Ontario officials say 1,793 residents of long-term care homes have died of COVID-19, along with 8 health care workers in long-term care homes.
"They will conduct as many interviews as necessary, they will require records be reproduced and they will summon as many people as they need to until we get to the bottom of this," Ford said Wednesday.
Marrocco will be joined by Dr. Jack Kitts, former president of The Ottawa Hospital and Angela Coke, a long-time Ontario bureaucrat and deputy minister.
Long-Term Care Minister Merilee Fullterton says the commission's hearings will be public, and will be delivered to government no later than April 30, 2020.
The members of the commission cannot make any determination of criminal or civil liability on the part of anyone involved in their report.
Marrocco is currently Associate Chief Justice for Ontario and led the 2018 inquiry into land deals in Collingwood, as well as the sale of the municipal electrical utility.
He was also involved in the 2000 Walkerton inquiry into tainted water in that community, where at least seven people died and 2,300 became sick.
NDP critic for the attorney general Gurratan Singh said that a commission falls short of the full public inquiry his party and others have asked for.
"Frankly there is a reason why Ford is resisting a full inquiry and putting commission in place instead of an inquiry. A commission doesn't even do the bare minimum."
He said the NDP wants the powers of the commission expanded to mimic that of a public inquiry and that all meetings of the body be public.
Liberal long-term care critic John Fraser slammed Ford saying a commission of inquiry is "toothless" compared with "the full Independent Public Inquiry that Ontario families expect and deserve."
Ontario Long-Term Care Association CEO Donna Duncan said that the sector welcomes the inquiry.
"We are encouraged that it will look at a broad range of longstanding and systemic challenges including staffing, infrastructure and labour relations," Duncan wrote. "It is vitally important to ensure systemic issues are addressed to ensure that long-term care is sustainable and able to provide the high quality care that Ontario’s seniors need and deserve."
Unifor, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees issued a joint statement saying they want workers to be heard at hearings.
"We look forward to ensuring that the voices of our members on the frontline of this crisis are heard by the commissioners. The reasons and source of confusion and chaos must be understood so that this never happens again. No government official and no corporate decision-maker should be shielded from the commissioners’ investigation."