Quebec coroner Kamel subpoenaed two ministers to testify on nursing home deaths

Coroner Géhane Kamel has sent a total of five subpoenas to two ministers to come and testify as part of her investigation into deaths in long-term care homes during the first wave of the pandemic.

This was clarified on Tuesday by Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette during the study of the budgetary appropriations of his ministry.

He had just spoken at length with the Liberal MP for La Pinière, Gaétan Barrette, about the number of ministers who had received subpoenas.

Relying on a response from the coroner's office to an access to information request, Barrette maintained that no fewer than five ministers had been summoned -- which Jolin-Barrette denied forcefully.

According to him, only two ministers were called to the witness stand: the former Minister of Health Danielle McCann and the Minister for Seniors Marguerite Blais.

"There are two ministers who were assigned; both appeared. It ends there," he said.

Later, he clarified that these two ministers had received a total of five subpoenas to testify.

McCann "was subpoenaed three times, and the minister responsible for seniors was subpoenaed twice by the coroner," said Jolin-Barrette

The coroner's office also issued a press release on Tuesday to specify what information it had sent to the Liberal Party of Quebec.

"After verifications, the five subpoenas… concern the testimonies of the ministers, Mesdames McCann and Blais, as well as that of (former) deputy minister of Health, Yvan Gendron," said spokesperson Jake Lamotta Granato.

"You should know that a summons is an order to appear on a given date, before the coroner. However, if the hearing schedule changes, a new summons must be sent to the witness," he explained.

Coroner Kamel heard all the ministerial authorities she wanted to hear as part of her vast investigation," added Granato.

On Tuesday, the Liberals also sought to learn more about the agreement that was reached between the coroner's office and the Attorney General of Quebec in connection with testimony.

According to the coroner, "various emails exchanged between the prosecutors of the coroner's office... and those of the Attorney General" have been traced. But "these exchanges are subject to professional confidentiality."

In an interview on Tuesday afternoon, Barrette protested against this "abuse of non-transparency."

Kamel, who heard some 220 witnesses, must file her report before the summer. It looks at deaths that occurred in CHSLDs during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the spring of 2020, in Quebec, nearly 4,000 seniors died in CHSLDs, some in complete solitude, without having been fed or given water.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 3, 2022. 

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