EDMONTON - After fumbling their way through the pandemic, the same companies that profited during the health crisis are now protected against COVID-related civil lawsuits, thanks to the UCP’s Bill 70: Covid-related Measures Act.
The new legislation passed late on June 16 and will shield multiple employers, retroactive to March 1, 2020. Private continuing-care home and residential addiction treatment operators, as well as Alberta Health Services (AHS), pharmacies, and other regulated health professionals, will now be better protected from legal liability for the spread of COVID-19 and any deaths caused by the virus.
AUPE Vice-President and Chair of the Committee on Political Action (COPA) Mike Dempsey says the legislation is flagrantly anti-democratic. “Lawsuits are one of the few ways everyday people can hold corporations responsible for their greed, and now the UCP is making it harder for Albertans to win court battles. It’s unfair.”
For-profit continuing-care homes were some of the worst hit COVID-19 hotspots in Canada. Now, some residents are seeking justice by filing lawsuits against the companies that run them. Here in Alberta, the UCP refused to hold the culprits responsible and even financially assisted them in May with a big bailout, despite corporations like Extendicare paying out close to $41 million in dividends to shareholders.
“Bill 70 is yet another reward for corporate recklessness,” says Dempsey. “While tens of thousands of frontline healthcare workers are still fighting to get paid sick leave, their employers are getting the penultimate pandemic protection – typical Kenney.”
Under the new legislation, families and residents will be burdened with the responsibility to prove “gross negligence” from an operator for a lawsuit to be successful. Demspey says, “I anticipate Bill 70 will discourage everyday people from fighting back, and when they do the legal fights will be costlier and the heartache heavier.”
Health Minister Shandro might suggest Alberta’s Bill 70 is fair because it only protects employers who comply with public health guidelines and legislation. But Dempsey says this caveat is meaningless when employer-friendly laws and wishy-washy health guidelines caused the continuing-care disaster in the first place.
“Long-term care is excluded from the Canada Health Act, which gives AHS full permission to send cheques to rich providers with few strings attached,” Dempsey explains. “Employers exploit this and divert public funds that were meant for the frontlines into luxury homes and cars. They sacrifice quality care for profits, and the government lets them. So, politicians helped manufacture the continuing-care monster we see today.”
AUPE believes Bill 70 is as much a shield for profit-makers as it is for politicians desperate to salvage their tanking reputations. Even the province’s own health agency, which is supposed to answer to the public, is protected by Bill 70.
“Premier Kenney is trying to disempower the public and make them feel redundant,” Dempsey says, “As a union that values equity and people power above all else, we condemn this new legislation on all fronts, and we stand in solidarity with all Albertans who’ve suffered from mismanagement of this health crisis.”
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Celia Shea, Communications Officer