Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are shown at Residence Yvon-Brunet, a long-term care home in Montreal, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces working inside long-term care homes could find themselves testifying about the state of those facilities in relation to lawsuits against the institutions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Troops could be called to testify in lawsuits against long-term care homes

Damning military reports said troops found cases of abuse and negligence in the homes

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces working inside long-term care homes could find themselves testifying about the state of those facilities in relation to lawsuits against the institutions.

The unusual scenario follows the deployment of hundreds of service members in April and May to more than two-dozen nursing homes in Ontario and Quebec hit hard by COVID-19.

Damning military reports later said the troops found cases of abuse and negligence in the homes, including bug infestations, aggressive feeding of residents that caused choking, bleeding infections and residents left crying for help for hours.

Stephen Birman and Lucy Jackson of Toronto law firm Thomson Rogers are leading a proposed $20-million class-action lawsuit brought against the Altamonte Care Community on behalf of the Toronto home’s residents and their families.

The lawsuit against Altamonte and its parent company, Sienna Senior Living Inc., alleges negligence and breach of duty over a lack of proper protocols and training as well as severe understaffing and a lack of proper equipment before and during the pandemic.

It is one of several court actions brought against long-term care facilities since COVID-19 first hit in earnest in March, ravaging many homes across the country. Nursing home residents and staff account for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in Canada.

READ MORE: 36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Birman and Jackson say the troops’ firsthand observations could be critical in proving their clients’ claims against the home, particularly as lockdowns imposed since March have made it difficult to impossible for residents’ families to get into the facility.

“The military is in a position to provide very helpful evidence,” Birman told The Canadian Press.

“They came in as a third party, as an objective observer, and they saw and identified a horrendous and shocking situation that may never have come to the forefront to the extent that it has if not for their involvement.”

The military report on Altamonte includes allegations most residents did not get receive their medication or proper meals and many had been left in bed for long periods without being moved or washed. There were also concerns about staff shortages and training.

Similar observations were made about the other four Ontario facilities, including bug infestations, aggressive feeding of residents and residents being left crying for hours The Quebec report was less critical, but did raise concerns about staff shortages.

None of the allegations in the reports or the proposed lawsuit, which was filed on June 1, have been proven in court.

Birman and Jackson are now collecting information to bolster their case for getting the lawsuit certified as a class action, which involves talking to as many residents, family members, staff as well as military personnel as possible.

READ MORE: Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say

Military spokeswoman Lt. Stephany Lura said military personnel had the same obligation to report to their commanders whatever observations they had while working in the long-term care facilities, as they would with any other mission.

“Like any other Canadian, CAF members may be called upon as witnesses,” she added. “This situation is no different. Our members will receive all necessary support from the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces should it be needed.”

While inviting service members to reach out to them, Birman and Jackson suggested service members could also be compelled to provide eyewitness accounts and other information through affidavits and other procedures.

“I would think everybody who’s involved in this important matter would want to hear from the military when this matter makes its way to the courts,” Birman said. “We will do everything we can to gather their evidence so it forms part of the record in this case.”

The military had more than 1,000 service members in 15 long-term care facilities in Quebec and almost 500 in five homes in Ontario last week.

While officials confirmed Sunday that operations at one of those Ontario homes, Orchard Villa in Pickering, had ended, the military appeared poised to deploy into another home in the city of Vaughan, north of Toronto.

“We can confirm that CAF is onsite at Woodbridge Vista today to do an onsite assessment,” said Gillian Sloggett, spokeswoman for Ontario Minister of Long-term Care Merrilee Fullerton.

“We are grateful for CAF’s continued support and we will have more news to share about next steps in the coming days.”

Talks around the continued provision of service members to long-term care facilities in Quebec until September are underway between Ottawa and the provincial government.

— With files from Allison Jones and Salmaan Farooqui in Toronto.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canadian Armed ForcesCoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Campbell River city council recently held a roundtable meeting with leaders from the aquaculture and forestry industries to discuss how they can be part of a post-COVID economic recovery in the region.
Campbell River city council holds roundtable on aquaculture, forestry

Will go forward with quarterly meetings involving industry leaders to address issues in the sectors

The Carihi Fly Fishing Club is touted as an example of incorporating the outdoors into the education curriculum in SD72. Photo submitted.
SD72 schools and educators embrace outdoor education and learning outdoors

The Campbell River School District has embraced the movement to incorporate nature… Continue reading

North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney has spoken out about some veterans losing their Dimished Earning Capacity income. (Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror photo)
Blaney pens letter to minister about veteran supports

Concerned about veterans losing some income

Two of the weapons seized in a Nov. 8 traffic stop in Black Creek. Photo supplied by RCMP
RCMP seize guns, drugs in Black Creek traffic stop

Two arrested in connection with incident

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Gracie couldn’t stop nursing from her previous owner’s goats which was problematic given the goats were trying to be dried out to breed. Gracie now lives at A Home for Hooves. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Cowichan animal sanctuary gets international accreditation

A Home for Hooves farm sanctuary accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

Port McNeill councillor Derek Koel busts a rap to help promote the town’s active transportation plan. (Facebook video screenshot)
VIDEO: Vancouver Island councillor makes rap video to promote active transportation plan

Active transportation is a personal matter for councillor Derek Koel.

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

The grey region of this chart shows the growth of untraced infection, due to lack of information on potential sources. With added staff and reorganization, the gap is stabilized, Dr. Bonnie Henry says. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 tracing to keep up with surging cases

People now notified of test results by text message

Most Read