Premier Doug Ford refuses to apologize after accusing NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa of vaccine queue jumping during an Ontario question period exchange on Thursday.
Mamakwa, who represents the northwestern Ontario riding of Kiiwetinoong and hails from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, asked Ford what he was doing to help vaccinate vulnerable urban Indigenous people.
“Not only did Ornge fly in,” replied Ford, referring to an effort to prioritize 31 fly-in First Nations for vaccination, though not answering the question.
“But the member flew in to get his vaccine. So thank you for doing that and kind of jumping the line, as I talked to a few chiefs that were pretty upset about that, for flying into a community that he doesn’t belong (to). But that’s neither here nor there.”
This accusation promptly backfired on the premier. Mamakwa was invited by communities to get the shot to counter vaccine hesitancy.
Watch the question and answer here:
Opposition leader Andrea Horwath said this is a reality in many communities due to generations of systemic racism, historic trauma and poor experiences in health care.
She slammed the premier and said Mamakwa showed good leadership.
“He stepped up. He led by example,” she said of Mamakwa. “And what thanks does he get for helping to fight vaccine hesitancy in Ontario’s First Nations communities? The premier rose, in his place, to insult the member and undermine the work of First Nations leadership and people in fighting COVID-19.”
She went on to say such statements have no place in the province’s parliament.
“I call on the premier not only to apologize to Mr. Mamakwa but to Indigenous leadership and people.”
Ontario NDP then tweeted out a press release from Feb. 1.
“Mamakwa received requests to take the vaccine on Monday by Chief Gordon Beardy of Muskrat Dam First Nation, as well as public health officials, following very low sign-up numbers in some First Nations communities,” it said.
“Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority expressed their appreciation for Mamakwa’s support of the northern vaccine program, Operation Remote Immunity.”
MPP @solmamakwa got his vaccine at the request of First Nations leaders & health officials. He’s a leader in the life-saving campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy.
Mr. Ford’s baseless attack undermines vaccination efforts in Indigenous communities. He needs to fix the damage now. https://t.co/Evk4DvlYIm
— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) March 11, 2021
The release went on to quote from a local public health official and a chief who lauded Mamakwa.
“Your support of Operation Remote Immunity, the first phase of the immunization program against COVID-19 is very much appreciated,” said Dr. John Guilfoyle, a physician with Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority.
“Your ability to support the community of Muskrat Dam at the request of its leadership is useful.”
The NDP then tweeted out a photo of Mamakwa receiving his second dose on March 1.
“I was invited by Sandy Lake First Nation to receive my 2nd dose of Moderna vaccine. I was there to promote vaccine uptake in fly-in First Nations,” said the MPP in the tweet. “Meegwetch to Dr. Suzanne Shoush for the shot.”
Mamakwa took the podium following Horwath. He said he hasn’t heard anything negative from chiefs.
He said Ford’s comments were “undermining but also damaging” for the vaccine rollout in remote First Nations communities.
“It’s a lack of respect to Indigenous people. It’s a lack of compassion for Indigenous people. It’s a lack of compassion for Indigenous people and the indifference that exists within this setting,” he told reporters.
“The uptake of the vaccinations in far northern Ontario, the fly-in communities, it’s about saving lives. It’s about a message that the vaccine is safe.”
APTN News reached out to the premier’s office to see if Ford was going to apologize.
His press secretary said Health Minister Christine Elliott addressed the matter in a scrum and her comments would stand.
Elliott said all must wait their turn and she wasn’t sure if Mamakwa had jumped the line or not.
APTN followed up with Ford’s office again asking for Ontario to clarify its position but received no reply.