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The Larga Baffin medical boarding home in Ottawa is run through a program that covers certain health-care costs for Inuit and First Nations patients, but Nunavut Health Minister Tagak Curley said other programs can fund non-Inuit like Michael Gardener. ((CBC))

Retired Anglican minister Michael Gardener 'will not pay a penny' to the Nunavut government after he was billed $17,000 for staying at an Ottawa medical boarding home, said Health Minister Tagak Curley.

Curley responded to public outrage sparked when the 79-year-old, who is from Iqaluit, was told he could no longer stay at the Larga Baffin, a boarding home for eastern Nunavut medical patients who have to travel to Ottawa for treatment, because he was not an Inuit land-claims beneficiary.

"He will not pay a penny, zero per cent," Curley said Thursday.

"The fact is that the balance will have to be covered by someone else. Mr. Gardener will not have to pay a penny."

Gardener, who has lived in Nunavut since the 1950s, has been in Ottawa since January to accompany his wife, Margaret, as she receives medical treatment.

Home at over-capacity

While his wife was in hospital, Gardener stayed at the Larga Baffin without problems until earlier this month, when he was billed nearly $17,000 by Nunavut's Health and Social Services Department.

Health officials said the boarding home has allowed non-Inuit to stay there in the past, but is now at over-capacity.

News of the hefty Larga bill shocked residents in Iqaluit, many of whom said accused health officials of discriminating against Gardener, a non-Inuk.

Some began to raise money to help Gardener, who lives on a missionary's pension.

Curley said the boarding home is run through the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits program, which covers certain health-care costs for First Nations and Inuit patients.

Issue not about race: Curley

But Curley said another program, the extended health benefits program, could cover much of Gardener's expenses at the Larga.

"It covers up to $70 per day per person, so most of that bill is going to be covered by that," he said.

"The remaining figure — roughly close to $9,000 or so — is going to be covered, perhaps, by Larga."

Curley said the issue does not have anything to do with racism, nor does he blame Gardener for his situation.

But Curley said it is imperative for Nunavummiut who are not Inuit land-claims beneficiaries to check the boarding home's policies if they intend to stay there.