Canada honours those who died of COVID-19 a year after pandemic declared
Party leaders praise health care, essential workers in speeches to House of Commons
Canada's political leaders today marked one year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by remembering those who died and praising the health sector and other essential workers who have kept the country functioning during a worldwide public health crisis.
"It has been a tough year, a heartbreaking year. But it has been a year we have faced together," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a solemn speech before the House of Commons.
"And that is something we must never forget."
Over 2.5 million people around the world have died from COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has disrupted social and economic life around the world. More than 22,000 people have died of the disease in Canada.
Earlier this week, Trudeau designated March 11 as a national day of observance — the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Sacrifices, secondary impacts
Trudeau spoke of the sacrifices Canadians have made by staying apart from each other to prevent the spread of the virus, and the solidarity shown in the national effort to end the pandemic.
He spoke of essential workers stocking grocery store shelves, of people cheering health care workers from their balconies and of businesses mobilizing to produce personal protective equipment.
"A year ago, Canadians were asked to stay home and to stay safe. And yet even apart, or perhaps because we were apart, our communities became stronger and stronger," he said.
Rising in the House after Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole focused part of his speech on the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on people who lost jobs, on businesses that lost income and on others who faced hardship from the secondary impacts of the pandemic.
"In B.C., there have been 60 per cent more deaths from the opioid epidemic than from COVID-19. Increasing rates of domestic violence have been the shadow pandemic this past year. Youth mental health issues, presenting as anxiety to eating disorders, are alarmingly on the rise," said O'Toole.
"The true cost of this pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of Canadians of all walks of life has been staggering."
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O'Toole also criticized the Trudeau government's pandemic response, suggesting that health care workers haven't received enough support and that a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations means it's uncertain when the country will get back to normal.
"Like many Canadians, we are frustrated by the slower pace of vaccines than elsewhere, but we want the government to succeed for the health and well-being of Canadians so that we can get our lives back to normal," O'Toole said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh paused briefly in his remarks before citing the fact that seniors living in long-term care homes bore the brunt of the pandemic, calling it a source of "national shame".
"I think of so many people, so many loved ones who were lost when their family could not be there with them in their last days," said Singh. "They were lost and families couldn't grieve their loss."
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet also spoke of the tragic impact of the pandemic on seniors — "the most fragile among us" — and other vulnerable people.
"People who are isolated, who live in poverty, who suffer from anxiety are suffering even more, and are made even more vulnerable by the pandemic," he said speaking in French.
Blanchet expressed his appreciation for workers in health care, education and child care, and recognized that many of those workers are women.
He also called on Canada to address inequalities and flaws in the national health care system that were exposed during the pandemic.
Impact on mental health
In Ontario, where more than 7,000 people have died of COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford offered condolences to the families of the pandemic's victims and recognized the difficulties others have faced in trying to limit the spread of the virus.
"Over the past year, the vast majority of people have followed public health restrictions to stop the spread, and we recognize the extraordinary burden this has placed on individuals, families and businesses across Ontario," said Ford in a media statement.
"And the uncertainty created by the pandemic has had a devastating impact on our collective mental health — especially that of young people, who have been forced to put their lives on hold, and seniors who have had to isolate themselves from friends and family."
Other ceremonies will be held across the country today. In Quebec, which has experienced the largest number of COVID-19-related deaths among provinces, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante will make a speech later in the day and Premier François Legault will take part in a ceremony at the legislature in Quebec City.
With files from the Canadian Press