Canada

Third day on stand could be hardest for Walkerton health officer

The third and final day of testimony for Walkerton's chief medical officer is likely to be the toughest.

Dr. Murray McQuigge said Tuesday he reluctantly blew the whistle on Canada's worst E. coli outbreak to defend the health unit and keep the public trust.

On Wednesday, he'll have to defend what he said about the manager of the public utilities commission. He'll have to face Stan Koebel's lawyer.

McQuigge takes the stand for a third time Wednesday at the inquiry looking into what happened when deadly E. coli bacteria contaminated Walkerton's water supply last May.

Seven people died and 2,000 others got sick from drinking the contaminated water.

McQuigge's health unit issued a boil-water order five days after the first reports of illness. Then, the medical officer went public with stunning accusations against the manager of the town's water supply.

"He was letting our credibility hang out there in the wind"

The health unit had already waited for two days for Mayor David Thomson to go public with the disturbing information that water manager Koebel knew the water was contaminated, but didn't tell anyone.

"David Thomson was frankly not telling what he knew and by not doing that he was letting our credibility hang out there in the wind," McQuigge said.

So McQuigge stunned the community by accusing Koebel of sitting on key documents that could have prevented many people from getting sick.

McQuigge testified it was a difficult decision. "We felt let down by other people. We just felt alone and let down. It was a terrible feeling," he said.

Koebel has admitted to a litany of improper procedures surrounding the testing and chlorination of the water. But he told the inquiry he always felt the water was safe.

Doctor directs blame at province

McQuigge was initially hailed as a hero for blowing the whistle.

But in some combative exchanges Tuesday, some lawyers suggested McQuigge was less a hero and partly responsible for not warning residents quickly enough.

In response, McQuigge suggested cutbacks and the privitization of water testing labs by the government of Ontario were partly to blame for the water contamination.

The inquiry's lawyer said the next hearings will examine those issues.

During his first day of testimony Monday, McQuigge repeatedly rejected suggestions by the inquiry's counsel that his office could have done more to prevent the tragedy.

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