Quebec coroner orders inquiry into care home COVID-19 deaths

Quebec's chief coroner has ordered a public inquiry into COVID-19 deaths at elderly care homes in the province, which had to call in the military for help. In this May photo, a Canadian soldier aids a senior citizen in May Vigi Queen Elizabeth Residential and Long-Term Care Centre in Montreal

Quebec's chief coroner ordered Wednesday a sweeping public inquiry into seniors' deaths at longterm care homes across the Canadian province ravaged by COVID-19 outbreaks.

In a statement, Chief Coroner Pascale Descary said the inquiry would look into deaths during the first six weeks of the pandemic, from March 12 to May 1, found to be "violent, obscure or linked to negligence."

Her office has already started an investigation into the Herron care home in a suburb of Montreal that had dozens of COVID-19 fatalities. It will act as a springboard for the wider probe, she said.

In Quebec, which alone accounts for more than half of all 8,300 coronavirus fatalities in Canada, eight in 10 deaths have occurred in retirement homes.

Unable to fill vacancies left by a large number of staff who walked off the job, either because they had become infected or feared that they might be, the Canadian army was called in to help care for elderly residents.

In neighboring Ontario, a similar situation unfolded.

A pair of military reports said soldiers found a blatant disregard for infection control measures and "horrible" care of seniors that verged on abusive.

Residents of these facilities had been left in soiled diapers, crying for help and force-fed.

Medical charts were inaccurate and families were given wrong information.

After reading the reports, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: "I had obviously a range of emotions of anger, of sadness, of frustration, of grief."

Hearings are expected to start in January 2021 and take several months, Descary told public broadcaster Radio-Canada.

The public inquiry will determine the causes and circumstances of the seniors' deaths in Quebec and provide recommendations on how to prevent these types of deaths in the future.

"This entirely public process will allow the Quebec population to be informed of the facts raised during the hearings and to follow reflection on this important social issue," Descary said in a statement.