During a press conference on Tuesday, British Columbia Premier John Horgan was questioned on the government’s support for local communities in the midst of the heatwave, which is believed to be linked to a rise of sudden deaths in the province.
“The public was acutely aware that we had a heat problem,” Mr Horgan had said. “And we were doing our best to break through all of the other noise to encourage people to take steps to protect themselves.”
The premier said he was waiting for more details on recent deaths from the provincial coroner, but then said: “Fatalities are a part of life”.
“I’ll await the coroner’s determination. As Dr. [Bonnie] Henry said, fatalities are part of life,” he said, crediting the phrase to the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia.
The premier said the causes of recent deaths in the province would be “examined”.
“This was an unprecedented heat wave, records broken day after day,” he said.
The comment sparked widespread backlash, with many local residents condemning Mr Horgan’s words on social media.
“Uh..... Premier Horgan seems to be blaming folks for unpreparedness during this heat wave?! After many people, including seniors, have died,” one social media user wrote.
“Premier Horgan needs to issue a full public apology for his utterly callous response to the #HeatWaveBC deaths,” one social media user wrote. “Those are people, those are families finding loved ones dead in their homes, and the count is rising,” they said.
Another social media user suggested it was “too late” for an apology. “Damage is done. Not enough ambulances. Not enough nurses. No preparation. Premier Horgan blames us for not ‘preparing’ and obviously didn’t reach out for help”.
“It’s ok though because Horgan...[has] informed us today that ‘fatalities are part of life’.
In the wake of Mr Horgan’s comments, BC chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the BC Coroners Service had experienced a “significant increase in deaths reported where it is suspected that extreme heat has been contributory”.
“The Coroners Service would normally receive approximately 130 reports of death over a four-day period. From Friday, June 25 through 3 p.m. on Monday, June 28, at least 233 deaths were reported,” she said, adding: “This number will increase as data continues to be updated.”
“I extend my condolences to those who have lost a loved one during this unprecedented time,” Ms Lapointe said.
“Coroners are carefully gathering all information available for each death reported, to determine the cause and manner of death, and whether excessive heat played a role,” she added.
The chief coroner said “environmental heat exposure can lead to severe or fatal results, particularly in older people, infants and young children and those with chronic illnesses”.
“ It is important that people are mindful of these risks,” she said, adding that residents should take precautions including drinking “plenty of fluids” and keeping cool “by finding an air-conditioned building or seeking out the shade, and most importantly, regularly checking on loved ones and neighbours”.
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