We, the signatories to this letter, are organizations from civil society, labour, and senior citizens representing hundreds of thousands Albertans speaking out against Bill 70: COVID Related Measures Act.
This legislation will unjustly provide a liability shield for health services facilities—including continuing care operators who are facing lawsuits over illness or death due to exposure to COVID-19. This bill would prevent families from being able to seek answers and hold care homes responsible for negligence of their loved ones.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, 64 percent of Alberta’s COVID-19 deaths occurred in care facilities, and we have seen the deaths of six front-line workers. After decades of escalating privatization, declining staff-to-patient ratios, and a chronically underpaid and stretched-thin workforce, our continuing care system has been rendered unable to contend with the deadly toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. The continuing care system in Alberta and across the country has long been in crisis and seniors continue to suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Bill 70 will make a dire situation even worse. Grieving families facing the preventable loss of their loved ones have a right to seek justice. It is vital that governments act in the public interest to protect vulnerable seniors, rather than the monetary interests of the private, for-profit continuing care industry and their shareholders.
Furthermore, the legislation will apply retroactively to March 1, 2020—prior to when Alberta enacted emergency public health measures. Any existing lawsuits that do not meet the new standard for gross negligence could potentially be thrown out, even if they met the standards that existed at the time they started their legal actions. The bottom line is that this bill would make it harder for those who are seeking justice on behalf of those who have been harmed as a result of COVID-19 in long-term care and retirement homes.
The retroactive nature of this legislation has been discussed during debate of this bill and government MLAs have obfuscated this fact, despite that it is clearly indicated in section 9 that the Bill will come into effect on March 1st, 2020. While existing lawsuits will be able to continue if this bill is passed, they will have a higher burden of proof and will make accessing justice more difficult. Alberta seniors and their families cannot have any trust that this government will act in the best interests of seniors.
In January, Alberta’s lobbyist registry shows that the government was lobbied by representatives for the private continuing care industry, seeking legal protections against the potential financial impact of COVID-19 related lawsuits from residents and families. The subsequent legislation, Bill 70, primarily benefits private, for-profit continuing care companies, and in no way serves the public interest, or the interest of those Albertans who tragically died potentially preventable deaths in a system more focused on profit than on the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.
Despite the disproportionate impact that this pandemic has had, we have seen no legislation to protect residents. We, the undersigned, have been loud and clear about what changes are urgently needed to protect people living in care homes, and to make sure they have the care they need. The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate toll on seniors should serve as a grim lesson to our governments that systemic change to our continuing care system is long overdue. If our governments fail to take this opportunity to finally remedy a system that has been in crisis for decades, they will be allowing for these lives to have been lost in vain. This legislation serves to restrict the rights of Albertans based on age and disability. It is simply discriminatory.
This legislation must not pass – for the sake of Alberta seniors and their families.
Each and every resident of Alberta’s continuing care facilities is a vital and integral part of our communities and families. Seniors deserve so much more than to be treated as commodities to be profited from, and families deserve answers and the peace of mind to know that every step has been taken to keep their loved ones safe throughout this pandemic. To do anything less reveals the ugly heart of ageism and a callous lack of care for the life and dignity of Alberta seniors. Alberta seniors deserve better.
Alberta Arts Action
Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)
Alberta Federation of Union Retirees (AFUR)
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)
Canadian Labour Congress - Alberta Region
Central Alberta Council on Aging (CACA )
Congress of Union Retirees of Canada - Edmonton Area Council
Council of Canadians - Medicine Hat Chapter
Council of Canadians - NW Region
Edmonton District Labour Council
Eyes Forward Alberta
Friends of Medicare (FOM)
Friends of Medicare - Calgary Chapter
Friends of Medicare - Lethbridge Chapter
Friends of Medicare - Palliser Chapter
Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA)
Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA)
Public Interest Alberta (PIA)
Red Deer Labour Council
Seniors’ Action and Liaison Team (SALT)
United Nurses of Alberta (UNA)
Whitemud Citizens for Public Health