Time to Hold Phoney Philanthropists Accountable

di Priscilla Pajdo del September 14, 2020

TORONTO - The main focus right now is creating a safe environment for students to return to school. Congregating people together in small spaces, with little room for social distancing, remains a problem in reducing the spread of Covid-19.

Change the demographic and environment, seniors in Long-Term Care Homes (LTCH), and we know the disastrous effects. To date, there have been over 1,817 Covid-19 fatalities in LTCH. This represents about 65% of all deaths attributable to the virus in Ontario (graph 1).

Who is to be held accountable? A Toronto-based law firm, Rochon Genova LLP, has launched a $500+ million class-action lawsuit on behalf of the families whose members were residents of 96 LTCH in Ontario most impacted during the Covid-19 crisis.

This is not the first such class-action brought against LTCH. It is the largest. Sienna Senior Living Inc., (whose then CEO, Lois Cormack, was interviewed by Corriere Canadese in April) is among the owners/operators of the LTCH listed in the 107-page Statement of Claim – copy of which has been made available to the Corriere Canadese.

The Claim, initially filled with the Superior Court of Justice on July 28, also lists the City of Toronto, an owner/ operator of some LTCH, as a Defendant, along with other municipalities like Peel and Durham.

The Government of Ontario is expected to be added to the list of representative Defendants, once the 60-day notice period expires.

In the Statement, the lawyers claim that “the government is not immune from liability”. They further maintain that the directives issued to LTCH through the Command Table were “inadequate and unreasonable and failed to recognize and address the serious nature of the risk and the harm” that residents suffered due to Covid-19.

The 96 LTCH listed in the lawsuit are a mix of commercial, non-profit and municipally-run homes. The Claim alleges they were egregiously neglectful of their fiduciary duties to safeguard residents against contagion resulting in illness and death.

Some for-profit homes are the biggest offenders. For instance, Orchard Villa in Pickering, owned and operated by Southbridge Care Homes, registered 70 resident deaths. Another two homes listed in the suit, Camilla Care Community (Mississauga) reported 68 fatalities and Altamont Care Community (Scarborough) 53. Both homes are owned/operated by Sienna Senior Living.

In addition, the list of Defendants includes Villa Colombo Homes for the Aged (Toronto) where 33 residents perished from Covid-19, and Villa Colombo (Vaughan) where 21 residents also died. They operate as non-profit under the umbrella of Villa Charities Foundation, a charitable organization (also named in the lawsuit).

Ironically, both locations cater to Italian Canadian seniors in their “golden years” by incorporating Italian culture to create a comfortable, peaceful, and safe community environment. They turned out to be anything but that.

The lawyers claim in the Statement that owners/operators of these LTCH did not “adopt and implement timely, reasonable and effective” infection control protocols to prevent exposure to the senior residents and mitigate the effects of the highly contagious virus.

These 96 LTCH have one thing in common: their license to operate was issued by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The lawyers allege in the Statement that the defendants “violated the Resident Class Members’ rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by their adoption of delayed, arbitrary, ad hoc, and grossly inadequate measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

In the estimation of the Claim, Defendants were negligent in exposing residents “to an unreasonable risk of contracting Covid-19”. An indication of how lethal that negligence proved is that 65% of all Covid-19 deaths occurred in LTCH. Yet, critics have pointed to faults and neglect in the Ontario Long Term Care system for years.

A defensive Premier Ford has said that his government inherited a “broken system”. After the release of a report by the Canadian Armed Forces (May 2020) detailing deplorable and horrifi c conditions in some five Ontario LTCH, the Premier proclaimed: “There’s going to be justice. There’s going to be accountability”.

When and what form will it take? Rochon /Genova’ Statement of Claim suggests it will cost at least $600 million plus expenses, just as soon as a Court is made available for the hearing.

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