B.C. premier walks back comments about heatwave deaths

B.C.’s premier is apologizing for his response to questions about sudden deaths during the heatwave. Critics say the remarks lacked compassion and were inexcusable. Crystal Laderas with more.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. Premier John Horgan is walking back his use of the phrase “fatalities are a part of life” when answering questions about more than 100 deaths across the province in this heatwave.

On Tuesday, Horgan was asked if the province could have done more to get the message out that temperatures in the 40s, as we saw over the weekend, could be fatal.

“The coroner will be issuing a report later in the day about unexpected deaths over the past, I believe 48 hours. She will be, as she always does, investigating those fatalities and reporting out to the public, directly,” Horgan said.

“I’ll await the coroner’s determination. As Dr. (Bonnie) Henry said, fatalities are part of life. The causes of those fatalities are examined by officials that we’ve placed as a society, to make sure get the best information possible so that we can put in place programs to protect people going forward. This was an unprecedented heat wave, records broken day after day.”

After Horgan made his comments, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe issued a statement, saying there has been a “significant increase” in deaths reported where it is suspected extreme heat was a contributing factor.

“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. This number will increase as data continues to be updated,” Lapointe said in her statement.

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Horgan says the public was “acutely aware” we were going into a period of extreme heat.

“We were doing our best to break through all of the other noise to encourage people to take steps to protect themselves. But it was apparent to anyone who walked out doors that we were in an unprecedented heat wave and again, there’s a level of personal responsibility.”

The premier insisted he was not ducking the issue.

“But I believe we did what we could to get information out and we rely also on the public press and media outlets who’ve done a really good job, in my mind, of making the case. Weather forecasters on all of the networks on radio were making the case, telling people to be wary and we have our Internet presence and social media doing that as well,” he said.

“You can prepare for a whole bunch of things, but if you don’t have air conditioning — certainly, I don’t in my home — you can’t do much about it other than find other alternatives.”

Horgan’s comments made waves on Twitter, with some people calling his comments callous.

Horgan later said the wording of his comments lacked appropriate empathy.

“Nothing can ease the pain of losing a loved one, whether it’s from the unprecedented heat wave or any other cause. Mourning families deserve our compassion, and the wording of my comments didn’t reflect that. Please continue supporting one another & checking on your neighbours,” he tweeted.

On Tuesday, Vancouver police said officers responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since the heatwave began on Friday, “with more casualties being reported by the hour.” The VPD said the vast majority of the deaths were related to heat.

Burnaby RCMP said its members responded to more than 30 deaths since Monday, many of them seniors. Heat is believed to be a contributing factor in most of those deaths, as well.

Mounties in Surrey responded to 22 deaths Monday and at least 13 on Tuesday. The causes of deaths have not yet been confirmed, but RCMP did say they are responding to more than the usual number of deaths since the beginning of the heatwave.

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