TORONTO - At some point, our political system and its operators will be accused of having neglected their fiduciary duty by those who alerted them to emerging dangers looming over the horizon. Perils that result in loss of life rather than temporary loss of income. Sooner or later, we all become vulnerable – and not always of our own doing.
Our governments are structured as a “safety net” for such events. Because in our democratic system we entrust the management of that “insurance” to those we elect, we have every right to expect they will heed our call, in moments of extreme need.
This article is not about pointing fingers. It’s about how easily some of those calls can “slip through the cracks”. Even when the people in question are experienced, financially comfortable, with a professional career as part of their background and a history of community involvement in their curriculum vitae.
Such a group of Canadians – 227 (mostly) seniors, all in good health - took all the necessary precautions and conducted all the due diligence with government policies, here at home and internationally at the potential ports of call, boarded a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, “Spirit”, for a cruise that should have taken them from the Dubai, through the Indian Ocean to The Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar, and the African Coast, around the Cape of South Africa.
At time of departure, March 2, concerns re Covid-19 and its spread were being treated in many parts of the world – including Canada – as something not warranting the concerned attention experienced in Wuhan or Italy. But some signals became disconcerting. By March 5, passengers were not allowed to disembark at any of the scheduled ports of call.
On March 18, they received notice that the next day they were to provide details of their travel arrangements regarding their return to Canada. The Canadians met; determined that, under the circumstances now prevailing, the best course of action would be to immediately alert Canadian authority at consular offices locally, the Prime Minister and their MPs back home.
Their personal health and safety, as well as those of their Canadians families still in Canada were their primary focus. They requested to be repatriated securely in one plane. Canadian officials could have arranged a chartered flight to pick them up – at their own expense. Their reasoning seemed logical: we’re all healthy; the tickets we had to buy would cost more than $1,000 each; pool the money and the more than $227,000 we were going to spend going on commercial flights could pay for a charter and avoid potential contagion.
Accordingly, they emailed the Prime Minister, Ministers Chrystia Freeland, Francois-Philippe Champagne and various MPs. Only MPs. Oliphant and. Baker responded saying in eect the government was looking into it. The Government at the same time was arranging to repatriate stranded Canadians in Peru and Morocco.
Without a positive response the 227, had no option but to buy tickets to leave Cape Town on March 22, in whatever flights they could find so they could meet the condition imposed by South Africa as the only way the passengers would be allowed to disembark. From the group of 6 friends traveling together 2 travelled from Cape Town to London and then Toronto, the other 4 from Cape Town to Johannesburg, London and then Toronto. One couple described the conditions as “navigating through an army of ants”. How could we protect ourselves against the Covid virus under those circumstances, said Elvira, the wife of one of two high school friends of mine, De La Salle graduates, Tom Harasti, an engineer, and Marek Malicki, a lawyer. They were travelling with their wives and friends Mike Stitski and Elizabeth Morgan.
They made it back March 23. All went into immediate voluntary quarantine. By March 26, Tom had chills and fever. He sought medical attention. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and Covid-19. Doctors decided to treat the pneumonia with antibiotics. It didn’t help. Within a few days, he found himself in ICU at the North York General Hospital, hooked up to a respirator and a feeding tube.
Tom Harasti passed away on April 11. His wife was able to be with him in the end. Marek and the others were devastated and angry. An anger shared by another high school buddy, Joe Grella (also an engineer) who had lunch with Tom early in the new year on high school reunion issues. Mr. Grella wondered if and how governments can be held to account.
On April 13, Elvira rewrote the PM and MPs expressing disappointment that their “hand-wringing and inability to find solutions” lead to this consequence. We just wanted our government to help co-ordinate a charter flight that we would pay so that we could travel without risk of mixing with carriers or potentially infected passengers.
Speaking on behalf of fellow travelers, she recommended the government “try to ascertain whether other Canadians that returned on the same March 22 British Airways Flight from Cape Town to London, then to Toronto and other destinations are healthy or also became contaminated by COVID-19”.
Corriere’s condolences go to his wife, children and grandchildren. It seems only yesterday that Marek, Tom, I and others like Joe Grella were grade “niners” at Del. We graduated together when the current Prime Minister was not even a twinkle in his own father’s eye.
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