Premier Doug Ford is slamming the federal government’s decision to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to some inmates before inoculating all long-term care home residents, as part of a pilot program starting this week.
Ford made the remarks on Wednesday during his first COVID-19 press conference of the year at Pearson Airport.
“Let's not give the most dangerous criminals in our country the vaccine before we give it to our long-term care patients, most vulnerable and other elderly people,” Ford said.
“I encourage the federal government, I encourage the Prime Minister, stop it. It is not good,” he added.
Ford’s comments come after the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) announced that, starting Friday, hundreds of federal inmates will receive vaccines as part of a pilot project.
According to UCCO, 1,200 doses of the vaccine will be delivered to prisons across the country, thus allowing 600 inmates to receive the necessary two doses of the vaccine for full immunization.
It is unknown whether the inmates will receive the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.
Through the pilot, doses will be sent to five prisons, including federal institutions in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and the West Coast.
The union said it does not know which specific institutions will receive the vaccines.
According to the union, sick and elderly prisoners will be given first access to the shots but prison officers and employees are not a part of the pilot program.
Ford said when he first heard the news, he “didn’t believe” that the “most dangerous criminals in the country” would be getting the vaccine before all nursing home residents.
“How do you square this? How do you put them [inmates] ahead of long-term care patients? How do you put them in front of all the most vulnerable and we're scraping every vaccine we can get. I imagine whoever the minister is in charge of that has dropped the ball majorly,” Ford said.
Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who joined Ford at his press conference, said the government’s priority still remains to inoculate those in long-term care home settings.
“In terms of moving forward as we continue to vaccinate, certainly group homes, homes that have developmental disability, adults and children, and congregate living like our corrections facilities will be in the queue, but right now our priority continues to be long-term care residents,” she said.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole also reacted to the news tweeting that “not one criminal should be vaccinated ahead of any vulnerable Canadian or front line health worker.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair responded to Ford and O’Toole’s comments at a virtual news conference on Wednesday and said the government is following the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
“I would also simply remind the premier and the conservative leader that frankly the language of resentment and fear really has no place in this discussion. It really needs to be based on the advice of our public health authorities,” he said.
However, NACI- which provides Ottawa with advice and guidance around prioritization of vaccines- has suggested that long-term care home residents and staff should be among the first phase of vaccinations.
NACI has advised that residents and staff of correctional facilities should be prioritized in the second phase of immunizations.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,146 among inmates across the country have been infected with the virus since the pandemic started in January, and three inmates have died.
-With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello, Kimberley Johnson and Ted Raymond