Patients' rights advocate filed criminal complaint over neglect of Quebec seniors in pandemic's 1st wave

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Paul Brunet, president of the Quebec Council for Patients Rights, testified that he believes the province underestimated the risk of COVID-19 for seniors, and that the province's inaction amounts to criminal negligence.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Paul Brunet, president of the Quebec Council for Patients Rights, testified that he believes the province underestimated the risk of COVID-19 for seniors, and that the province's inaction amounts to criminal negligence. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

A prominent advocate for patients' rights has filed a police complaint against top Quebec government and public health officials over their handling of the pandemic's first wave in 2020.

Paul Brunet, head of the Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients, testified at the coroner's inquiry into the deaths at seniors homes on Thursday that he filed a complaint with Quebec provincial police alleging criminal negligence by Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and the former health minister, Danielle McCann.

Brunet, whose voice broke at times during his testimony, said Arruda and McCann failed to protect seniors living in residences.

"Thousands of deaths could have been avoided. These people were ignored, neglected, sacrificed," Brunet testified.

Brunet noted the World Health Organization first declared a global state of emergency on Jan. 30, 2020. He said that by February, there were clear warning signs that seniors were more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

He said Arruda and McCann underestimated the risk.

Brunet said the province should have introduced mass testing of seniors in long-term care residences and independent living facilities in March 2020 or earlier. He says that didn't happen until May 2020, after hundreds had already died.

He said the government failed to stockpile enough personal protective equipment for seniors' residences and made a serious error in banning visits from family members who were essential caregivers.

"Everything was in place for the massacre that followed," he said.

"There was useless, horrible and, in my opinion, criminal suffering in CHSLDs," he testified.

Brunet said he filed a complaint with the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) in September 2021 and that investigators are currently studying it.

Provincial police confirmed Thursday that they received the complaint and were analyzing it.

Brunet said he promised the SQ he wouldn't speak about the complaint publicly unless he was testifying under oath, which is why he revealed it today — and he noted the complaint was filed by him personally and not by the Council for Patients' Rights.

Brunet alleges 'negligence' contributed to thousands of deaths

In an interview with Radio-Canada after his appearance Thursday, Brunet said it was while preparing for his testimony at the coroner's inquiry that he started to believe that what happened in seniors residences during the first wave was criminal.

"There were two people responsible for everything that was recommended to the government — the director of public health and the minister of health," Brunet said.

He alleges Arruda and McCann neglected to ensure they were adequately informed

"It was impossible not to have known at the start of February 2020 that elderly people were particularly affected and at risk," he added.

Brunet said after filing the complaint in September, he spoke with an SQ investigator last month.

"My complaint focuses on the fact that the province was careless and acted recklessly with respect to the lives of elderly people in such residences, and that this contributed to the deaths of hundreds or perhaps thousands of them," he added.

McCann was asked about the allegations at an event Thursday. She said she was unaware of the police complaint.

McCann didn't address Brunet's allegations directly, but noted that, in addition to the coroner's inquiry, Quebec's health commissioner is also investigating. She said the results of those investigations will be made public and they should be allowed to run their course.

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