Opposition parties blast Trudeau for failing to send military to COVID-stricken Bearskin Lake


It’s been three days since Bearskin Lake First Nation asked the federal government to send in the military to help deal with a major COVID-19 outbreak.

As of yet, not a single soldier has set foot in the community.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says this is unacceptable.

“The military has been a crucial peaking resource to help make sure that our health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed,” he says.

“They shouldn’t have to beg and plead for deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces. The government and the minister should be on top of this.”

Omicron variant

Bearskin Lake is located about 600 km north of Thunder Bay, and roughly half of its 400 residents are infected with the Omicron variant.

Community leaders say they don’t have enough healthy people to perform even the most basic of tasks such as collecting wood for heat or delivering food to elders.

Earlier this week, the NDP sent a letter to Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair demanding to know what is going on.

Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus says the current situation is outrageous.

“They’re watching this community get hammered with Omicron,” he says. “Completely overrun. Reaching out to the federal government and saying, ‘We need some help here.’

“And they’re getting the run around; they’re getting these ridiculous responses. The latest I heard is, ‘They didn’t fill out the forms properly. They did not officially ask us.’”

$1 million

Indigenous Services Canada says it is directing a little over $1 million in aid to Bearskin to help with the crisis.

The government also says it is working closely with the First Nation to find out what exactly it requires and how many people it needs to help, but Angus says this is not enough.

He says if the same situation was happening in a major Canadian city, the military would have been there long ago.

“The mayor of Toronto called on the army to come in and shovel the sidewalks for Torontonians so they could get to work and the Canadian army showed up,” he says. “Meanwhile, we had a COVID crisis in Kashechewan (First Nation) and we begged the army and Bill Blair (minister of emergency preparedness) for weeks and weeks to get help and by the time they came in the community had been completely overrun.

“And in that time the public had stepped in and it’s the same thing in Bearskin Lake.”

The federal government also says the Ontario government needs to make a formal request in order to send the military to the First Nation.

A request to Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford’s office for clarification was unanswered at press time.

Fraser spent the last 20 years working in both print and radio in Saskatchewan – mostly in the northern part of the province. Before joining APTN’s Ottawa bureau, he was news director for the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation working out of their Prince Albert office. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton University and a diploma of journalism from Algonquin College.