Health Canada says ‘NO’ to disclosing ‘critical’ COVID audits into pandemic response

Health Canada completed over 20 audits into the federal government's mismanagement of the COVID pandemic but are refusing to release those records to the public, according to Blacklock's Reporter.

Health Canada says ‘NO’ to disclosing ‘critical’ COVID audits into pandemic response
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Health Canada completed over 20 audits into the government's COVID pandemic response but are refusing to release those records to the public, according to Blacklock's Reporter.

"The pandemic revealed critical weaknesses and gaps in Canada’s emergency preparedness and management posture," said a November 1 memo Ministerial Briefing Volume 1. "A preliminary analysis of key reports and studies identified key themes which point to areas of improvement."

The department memo said "over 21 relevant internal Public Health Agency audits, evaluations and reports" had been completed, but only one had been disclosed to date, in 2020 to the Commons health committee.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada a 'world leader' in emergency management. "Canada is among the best-prepared countries in the world," he told reporters on March 11, 2020.

Despite the claims, frequent disclosures revealed that federal agencies failed to maintain sufficient medical supplies, including masks. 

On March 30, 2020, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) warned in an internal staff email that "we won’t have enough to go around," reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

"There is a massive shortage of personal protective equipment," it reads. "Doctors and hospitals are saying they don’t have it themselves. We are going to have to make choices."

The September 30, 2020, internal audit, Lessons Learned From The Public Health Agency Of Canada’s Covid-19 Response, cited "confusion" within Health Canada from the get-go, as they lacked "the needed breadth and expertise to lead complex files."

Then-Agency president Tina Namiesniowski resigned 12 days before they completed the audit, but ultimately lacked "timely key information" to administer a COVID response.

Numerous audits have since faulted the Agency for having "limited public health expertise," reported Blacklock's Reporter, having gone through four presidents in 28 months. They concluded it lacked a “clear understanding” of compiling critical data.

Data “revealed critical weaknesses and gaps,” said Volume 1.

Records showed prior to the pandemic the Public Health Agency landfilled millions of masks, medical gowns and other supplies intended for safekeeping. The Agency also misled cabinet on its capacity to respond to an emergency.

The Auditor General in a March 25, 2021, report Pandemic Preparedness, said Health Canada "underestimated the potential impact of the virus" and repeatedly downplayed the risk.

The Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association and Canadian Public Health Association all publicly criticized the Agency. "We were caught flat-footed," Dr. Sandy Buchman, then-president of the Medical Association, testified at a 2020 hearing of the Commons health committee.

"There are and continue to be lessons for everyone in Canada and around the world from the Covid-19 pandemic," said a July 1 health department memo Pocket Book. "We continue to take stock of the lessons learned so that we are well positioned and prepared to respond to future health emergencies."

In August, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland championed Canada’s COVID response, despite the country boasting a higher death rate than other industrialized nations.

"Our experience during COVID, which was a tragedy where every single COVID death was a tragedy, of course, we could learn lessons about how to do better," she told reporters. "But broadly, Canada did pretty well. We did well because we had a real Team Canada approach."

Canada’s pandemic death rate of 135.2 cases per 100,000 population superseded New Zealand (53), Japan (58), Taiwan (74), Australia (77), and Norway (96), according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

On February 8, the Commons gave a second reading to Liberal-sponsored Bill C-293, An Act Respecting Pandemic Prevention. MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith promised to have cabinet "establish an advisory committee" to review the federal pandemic management. 

Blacklock’s Reporter learned the Commons health committee stalled the proposal on April 20 after MPs rejected the internal review as a poor substitute for a public inquiry. 

"It’s not independent; it is not transparent," said NDP MP Don Davies.

Ultimately, the Liberals rejected a public inquiry October 23 into COVID mismanagement, reported Blacklock's Reporter. MPs on the Commons health committee voted against a New Democrat proposal for a judicial inquiry under the Inquiries Act, in favour of a closed-door review by Health Minister advisers.

"We need to have an impartial, independent, public and properly resourced inquiry to undertake this work," said Davies, urging federal authorities to testify under oath.

"Confidence has been tested and it has been shaken,” he added, emphasizing the need to restore public confidence in government.

Conservative MP Stephen Ellis also condemned the Liberals for rejecting a full, transparent public inquiry.

"The Liberal government has chosen not to have a pandemic inquiry," he said. "It would appear by this bill the Liberal government doesn’t wish to have a public inquiry, that they would be satisfied having a private member’s bill."

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