Canada’s response to COVID-19 pandemic riddled with failures: expert review

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section

By Paul Logothetis

Media Relations Agent, Media Relations, External Communications

COVID-19 test kit
Steve Nomax (Unsplash)
University of Ottawa experts among 13 national institutions contributing to BMJ’s analysis of success and failures of the country’s pandemic response, with vaccine hoarding and lack of global leadership identified.

An international review of Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has found glaring failures, particularly due to long-standing weaknesses in Canada’s public health care systems plus poor data sharing and communication between provincial and federal governments.

Roojin Habibi and Adam R. Houston from the Faculty of Law – Common Law Section were among experts from 13 Canadian institutions who contributed to The British Medical Journal’s series titled The BMJ Canada COVID Series, providing critical analysis of the successes and failures of Canada’s Covid-19 response. It includes calls for a national independent review to draw lessons and ensure accountability for past and future preparedness.

Habibi and Houston, an Adjunct Professor whose contribution came while affiliated with the Human Rights Research and Education Centre – argue that Canada must  reverse its track record from Covid-19 and prioritise public needs over profits in its national investments and global leadership in health. While Canada achieved high vaccination coverage locally, it hoarded Covid vaccine, failed to support measures to increase global supply, and thus contributed to global vaccine inequity.

Professor Roojin Habibi

“The articles call for an independent, national inquiry providing an actionable framework for reforming Canada’s public health systems and delivering on its ambition to be a global leader.”

Roojin Habibi

— Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law - Common Law Section

“Canada has inexcusably failed to participate in efforts to promote global vaccine equity by hoarding vaccines when equitable distribution was most needed, by hampering multilateral efforts to prevent something like this from happening again, and also by deferring to the pharmaceutical industry in national pharmaceutical policy stances,” says Habibi, an Assistant Professor whose expertise combines the fields of international law, health law, and human rights as he examines normative interpretation and change in global health law. 

“The articles call for an independent, national inquiry, including learning from decisions and actions that failed or faltered, providing an actionable framework for reforming Canada’s healthcare and public health systems, and delivering on Canada’s ambition to be a global leader.”

Experts found that lessons from the 2003’s SARS-CoV-1 outbreak had not been heeded and Canada’s governments and health authorities were ill-prepared for Covid-19, with fragmented health leadership hindering a coordinated response. Despite a universal healthcare system, communities experiencing social and economic marginalisation in Canada were hardest hit in each wave of the pandemic, and those living and working in long-term care homes were particularly affected, which led to a national shame.

 “A million lives in 2021 alone might have been saved in poorer countries had rich nations like Canada shared more covid vaccine,” the series notes. “Are such losses not worth preventing in the future?”

The BMJ Canada Covid Series includes ‘Canada’s role in covid-19 global vaccine equity failures’ by Adam R Houston and Roojin Habibi. DOI: 10.1136/bmj-2023-075149

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