Honourable senators, my question again today is for the government leader. It follows up on questions Senator Munson asked regarding prioritizing Canadians with disabilities for vaccination against COVID-19.
Senator Munson raised a report from the U.K. that showed people with disabilities comprised 59% of all COVID-19 deaths there, despite being only 17% of their population.
Leader, yesterday you mentioned the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. This expert panel says the evidence of COVID-19 and vaccines is rapidly evolving. It has already revised its guideline twice on which groups to prioritize, including prioritizing racialized groups ahead of the disabled, as you said yesterday.
Leader, has your government specifically asked the advisory committee to give priority to Canadians with disabilities for COVID-19 vaccinations? And if not, why not?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
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Thank you for your question and again for underlining the tragedy that is affecting so many Canadians, including those with disabilities.
I do not know the answer to your specific question, but I do know that it is this government’s position that an advisory committee of experts — an independent one at that — is there to give advice to the government, not to take direction from the government as to what advice it should give.
Senator Gold, the storytelling from your government about its so-called evidence-based decision making has to stop. Canada has already seen the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. Participation House in Markham, Ontario, had a horrible outbreak last year. Nearly all of its residents tested positive, and six people tragically died.
In this chamber last May, Senator Seidman asked Minister Qualtrough if she knew how many facilities for people with disabilities across Canada experienced COVID-19 outbreaks. The minister did not know. I put questions on the Order Paper in September, Senator Gold, for this information, and we still have no answers. I understand you can’t give us answers on the fly all the time.
Leader, does your government know how many people with disabilities in Canada have died from COVID-19? Does your government have an estimate of how many more lives from Canada’s disability community could be lost without priority access to vaccines?