Woman whose husband died early in pandemic sues Montreal West Island CIUSSS for $2.2M

·4 min read
Amoti Furaha Lusi moved to Canada from Congo with her husband, Désiré Buna Ivara, with hopes of building a better life. He died of COVID-19 in 2020. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
Amoti Furaha Lusi moved to Canada from Congo with her husband, Désiré Buna Ivara, with hopes of building a better life. He died of COVID-19 in 2020. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

Jeanne Kugiza Ivara is following in her late father's footsteps, studying natural sciences in CEGEP.

"My father was the best father that I could ever ask for," she said. "He was someone who really meant a lot to me."

She said she wishes he was still here to help her with her studies, but Désiré Buna Ivara died in 2020 — just short of earning his PhD. The 50-year-old spent a month in a coma after contracting COVID-19 from his wife, Amoti Furaha Lusi.

Furaha Lusi said she caught the virus from working in a long-term care home as the first wave of the pandemic swept through the province, hitting seniors' residences particularly hard.

Now she's seeking $2.2 million in compensation for the loss of her husband, accusing Montreal's West Island health agency, CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, of not doing enough to prevent the spread of of COVID-19 at the Centre d'hébergement Foyer Dorval where she worked.

Furaha Lusi's lawsuit, filed last week, also names a manager and a co-worker whom she alleges ignored the signs and put her at risk.

"There is a big void in our house, in my heart, among my children," she said. "My husband really leaves a void."

Alone with 6 children

Furaha Lusi was left alone, pregnant and with five children at the time of her husband's death. Her youngest is now two years old.

According to the lawsuit, on or around March 31, 2020, the plaintiff noticed that her colleague was showing symptoms associated with COVID-19, namely a cough, nasal congestion and intense fatigue which forced him to lie down.

This was after he had taken two or three days off due to illness, the suit alleges, and Furaha Lusi asked her boss to remove the man from work. Her boss refused, the suit says, and went on to reassure Furaha Lusi that he would not keep somebody at work if it put others at risk.

"He told me, 'Rest assured, everything is fine,'" Furaha Lusi said.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC
Rowan Kennedy/CBC

This decision exposed Furaha Lusi to the virus, the suit alleges. The man was only sent home several days later after the union got involved, the suit says.

Then by April 6, Furaha Lusi showed symptoms. A day later, her family showed signs as well. They all tested positive and went into isolation in accordance with government guidelines, the suit says.

About five days later, Ivara was transported to hospital where he later died.

The suit claims Furaha Lusi's manager ignored his legal obligations by keeping the sick employee at work and the CIUSSS was not doing enough to enforce Quebec Public Health's instructions.

WATCH | Amoti Furaha Lusi shares her story: 

Seeking a better life in Canada

Ivara had immigrated to Quebec from Congo in 2004, with the hope of making a better life for his family. His wife and oldest children joined him a few years later, and the family settled in Deux-Montagnes, 40 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

"He really wanted to build a life here," said Furaha Lusi, a month after her husband died. "He really had the Canadian dream."

The plaintiffs have suffered financial, moral and immeasurable emotional harm arising from the faults of the defendants, the suit says.

"First and foremost, we would like to offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones," said Hélène Bergeron-Gamache, spokesperson for the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

Beyond that, she said the CIUSSS will not comment further as the case is now in court.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 2881 said in a statement that "we are heartbroken by the terrible loss" Fuhara Lusi and her family experienced. The union pointed out that it set up an online fundraising campaign that collected $118,895 for the family.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC
Rowan Kennedy/CBC

None of Fuhara Lusi's claims have been proven in court.

As for Jeanne, who managed to graduate high school with honours despite her loss, she said she hopes the lawsuit will help the world see what her family has gone through since her father's death and how management didn't listen to her mother's concerns.

"My mom is alone," she said, but her siblings look after one another, trying not to focus on their sadness — a sadness, she added, that they will carry forever.

"We really try to be nice and kind to one another, instead of always talking about all this sadness that came into our family."