Canadian News Oct 12, 2021 12:03 AM EST

China gave Quebec 'preferential' medical supplies at start of pandemic: Internal emails

Records show that a total of 85 percent of federal emergency medical supply flights from China went to Quebec in the first two months of the pandemic.

China gave Quebec 'preferential' medical supplies at start of pandemic: Internal emails
Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary, AB
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Records show that a total of 85 percent of federal emergency medical supply flights from China went to Quebec in the first two months of the pandemic. Political aides in the Prime Minister's Office concealed the figures for fear "it'll beg questions that we're playing favourites."

"I'd caution against using a percentage of how many flights we've been helping Quebec," Matt Stickney, the Prime Minister's executive director of operations, wrote in a May 3, 2020 email. "I'd say we've been working very closely with Quebec and helping as much as we can to get goods back from Asia. I just think it'll beg questions that we're playing favourites with Quebec and end up in English media."

Records showed from the pandemic outbreak on March 11, 2020, to May 3, a total of seventeen of twenty emergency flights from China organized by the Department of Health carried supplies for Quebec, reported Blacklocks. Cargo jets loaded masks, medical gloves and other personal protective equipment. "We have brought home twenty planes full of supplies with flights coming in nearly every day this past week," wrote Sabrina Kim, then an advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"More than 75 percent of Government of Canada personal protective equipment flights included supplies procured by the Government of Quebec which we had offered to help bring over for them," wrote Sabrina Kim, a former advisor in the Prime Minister's Office. "So that means 17 out of 20 flights included Government of Quebec supplies."

Figures showed total shipments from the health department to the province included 5.1 million surgical masks, 1.8 million pairs of medical gloves, 454,000 high-grade N95 masks, 250,000 face shields and 68 ventilators. Authorities rationed equipment at the time due to what aides called a "massive shortage."

"Of the total personal protective equipment shipments, the number is always changing, and certain numbers, i.e. 68 ventilators, seem pretty low," wrote Kim. "But the surgical mask and gown numbers look good at least. Would maybe use the success stories rather than specific delivery numbers."

Aides did not explain why Quebec received preferential shipments over cargo for other provinces clamouring for personal protective equipment. The number of Québec shipments was never publicly disclosed.

At the start of the pandemic, political aides in the Prime Minister's Office stressed "we should be careful about what we say" in giving Quebec preferential treatment. Hospitals across the country faced a "massive shortage of personal protective equipment," according to a March 30, 2020 staff email. Internal records confirmed within days of the pandemic's outbreak on March 11, 2020, that federal agencies were aware of shortages so severe that shipping date-expired supplies to provinces or none at all.

Aides on March 21 said Quebec asked for supplies "far greater than what other provinces are asking for." Sabrina Kim, then-advisor to the prime minister, wrote: "We may have a problem with them, and it may be helpful to manage their expectations a bit." The province of Quebec cited "uncertain" international procurement and feared companies might not respect contracts, according to a March 28, 2020 email.

On April 1, 2020, Stickney said the Department of Foreign affairs stockpile should go to Quebec. At the time, all supplies were to be distributed evenly to provinces through the Public Health Agency.

Canada's top doctor Dr. Theresa Tam previously argued masks were ineffective or possibly harmful to wear on at least seven separate occasions before April 7, 2020. Tam dismissed mask-wearing as recently as April 3, and as recently as April 1 insisted such measures could be harmful.

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