Premier Doug Ford is facing demands to apologize after accusing Ontario’s only Indigenous MPP of “jumping the line” for a COVID-19 shot he was invited to get by local medical authorities in hopes of easing vaccine hesitancy in remote First Nations communities.
New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who represents the new riding of Kiiwetinoong near Kenora in northwestern Ontario, tweeted about the injection earlier this week as the government’s “Operation Remote Immunity” was in full swing to complete shots in fly-in communities at high risk of outbreaks.
Mamakwa later said the premier’s remark serves to undermine vaccination efforts in the far north and showed “a lack of understanding, a lack of respect…a lack of compassion for Indigenous people.”
Chief Gordon Beardy of the Muskrat Dam First Nation, who invited the MPP to get his first shot there last month, said the premier needs to “smarten up.”
“We were very disappointed with his remarks,” Beardy told the Star. “They were very irresponsible of him because COVID is a very serious matter and should not be used as a political game. Lives are at stake.”
Opposition MPPs were aghast, with an emotional Green Leader Mike Schreiner saying Ford’s words made him feel “sick to my stomach” and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca calling them “an attempt to score cheap political points by someone who doesn’t understand the reality of his privilege.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford, who last month ran into criticism for saying her voice sounds like “nails on a chalkboard,” clearly doesn’t understand the legacy of centuries of colonialism on Indigenous communities.
“The premier needs to undo the damage that he did this morning,” she told reporters, saying Mamakwa is a member of the Kingfisher First Nation and was eligible for an early vaccine.
Ford made his comments in the legislature’s daily question period in reply to a question from Mamakwa, who asked why Indigenous peoples living off-reserve in cities like Toronto and Thunder Bay “have not received equitable access” to vaccines.
The premier pointed to $37 million in supports for Indigenous peoples in the pandemic but appeared to get testy when Mamakwa said urban Indigenous are not “happy as punch” and are overrepresented in jails and among the homeless, making them a “critical priority” for vaccinations.
Ford responded that getting to the 31 remote communities with vaccines on flights by the Ornge air ambulance service was “one of our highest priorities.”
“Not only did Ornge fly in, but the member flew in too to get his vaccine, so thank you for doing that and kind of jumping the line. I talked to a few chiefs that were pretty upset about that, for flying into a community that he doesn’t belong to.”
Mamakwa tweeted a picture of him getting a booster shot on Sunday, saying “On March 1, 2021, 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. Meegwetch to Dr. Suzanne Shoush for the shot.”
“The uptake…is about saving lives,” the MPP told reporters Thursday, adding he isn’t aware of any chiefs annoyed he got the second injection, contrary to Ford’s charge.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said “the premier, perhaps, was expressing some frustration.”