Posted on Apr 23, 2020
NDP DEMANDS PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO HANDLING OF MEAT PLANT COVID-19 INFECTIONS
EDMONTON -- The NDP Official Opposition is demanding Premier Jason Kenney commit to launching a public inquiry into the handling of COVID-19 outbreaks inside at least two Alberta meat plants.
As of Wednesday, there were 580 cases of COVID-19 linked to the Cargill plant in High River and a further 96 cases linked to the JBS plant in Brooks. A worker from Cargill has died as a result of COVID-19. A JBS employee also died although public health officials have yet to confirm it was as a result of COVID-19.
Amid the spread of COVID-19, workers at the Cargill plant had been raising concerns about the tight-quarters, lack of personal protection equipment and other issues for about two weeks. On Easter Sunday, as news emerged of 38 COVID-19 cases linked to Cargill, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) called for the plant to be shut for two weeks to allow time to develop a proper safety plan — those concerns went unheard. Six days later, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen assured workers in a conference call that the plant was safe but it was closed two days later after a worker died as a result of the COVID-19 virus.
The UFCW has also called for the closure of the JBS plant as well as an Olymel plant in Red Deer until worker safety can be assured. To date, those requests have also gone unheeded by the Government. Premier Jason Kenney, Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping, and Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen have yet to account for why worker safety was left in jeopardy for weeks at the plants, stating only that closing them would have impacts on food supply chains.
“We believe the Premier and the Government Cabinet failed to act at Cargill and also appear resistant to meaningful action at the JBS plant,” said NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “Now, we have significant community spread in two Alberta communities and at least one worker has died.
“This Government has lost the trust of the public. The only way we can truly learn from these tragedies and hold the Government to account on these serious matters is through the launch of a full public inquiry.”
Public inquiries are an arms-length and independent inquiry into a matter of public concern created under Alberta’s Public Inquiries Act. They are launched by Cabinet into matters within the legislature's jurisdiction and connected to the good government of Alberta or the conduct of the public business of Alberta.
Commissioners appointed under the Act have the power to summon witnesses to give evidence and produce documents, and have the same immunities and privileges as a judge of the Court of Queens Bench.
“Let’s be clear, Jason Kenney must commit to this public inquiry,” Gray said. “He continues to claim that the outbreaks at Cargill and JBS have been handled properly. If that’s true, he should be fully willing to launch a public inquiry to determine the facts. If he won’t, then what is the Premier hiding?”