TORONTO — Ontario opposition politicians are demanding an apology from Premier Doug Ford for accusing an Indigenous NDP legislator of "jumping the line" for COVID-19 vaccinations.
Sol Mamakwa, who represents the northern Kiiwetinoong riding, had publicly discussed his vaccination when he received his first dose last month. He said he was invited by community elders to take the shot to help combat vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous residents in Ontario.
He said on Thursday that Ford's comments demonstrate a lack of respect for Indigenous people, their leadership and their historic challenges in accessing health care.
"It's a lack of compassion for Indigenous people, and the indifference that exists within the system," Mamakwa said in an interview Thursday. "Those comments that he made totally undermine and damage the vaccination efforts that we're doing."
Ford made the remarks during debate in the provincial legislature on Thursday, after Mamakwa asked about the government's plan to distribute vaccines to Indigenous people in urban areas. Indigenous people are a priority under the current phase of the province's vaccine rollout.
Ford pointed in response to vaccinations ongoing in fly-in Indigenous communities and alleged that unnamed Indigenous leaders were upset that Mamakwa received a dose.
"The member flew in to get his vaccine, so thank you for doing that and kind of jumping the line," Ford said. "I talked to a few chiefs that were pretty upset about that, for flying into the community that he doesn't belong to, but that's neither here nor there."
Mamakwa said on Thursday that he had not heard of the complaints Ford referenced, and that he was vaccinated because his constituents asked.
"I report to my constituents, and that's what they wanted," he said.
He said he struggled himself with the decision to get the shot, but ultimately did so based on what he was hearing from constituents and his desire to save lives and preserve culture and history in communities that are vulnerable to outbreaks.
The leaders of the NDP, Liberal and Green parties all condemned Ford's comments.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath wrote to Ford later on Thursday asking him to apologize for comments she said "have dangerously undermined vital public health and vaccination efforts in the COVID-19 pandemic."
"It is imperative that you recant your baseless insult hurled at an Indigenous MPP and First Nations leader, and clarify immediately for all Indigenous people, on and off reserve, that they should get the COVID-19 vaccination," Horwath wrote.
"You must also set the record straight, and clarify that you fully support and will empower all efforts to ensure Indigenous people – and all Ontarians – are speedily vaccinated to bring an end to this pandemic."
The premier's office said Thursday that Ford had nothing further to add.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press