The High River Cargill plant shut down for two weeks in April 2020 after the outbreak affected more than 1,000 workers. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

The High River Cargill plant shut down for two weeks in April 2020 after the outbreak affected more than 1,000 workers. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Union, NDP calling for public inquiry into UCP’s handling of Cargill COVID-19 outbreak

Alberta Federation of Labouy says documents show government put production ahead of worker safety

An Alberta union group says Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen and Labour Minister Jason Copping should be fired after internal government documents suggest production at Cargill’s High River meat packing plant was priortized over public safety.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and the NDP called for a public inquiry on Tuesday into the government’s handling of COVID outbreaks at meat packing plants.

The union and opposition said that the government misled Cargill workers last April by telling them the plant was safe despite rising COVID-19 infections.

The documents from the Agriculture and Forestry ministry were obtained by the AFL through freedom of information and show details of the Kenney government’s early response to COVID-19 in Alberta’s meatpacking plants.

The AFL says the documents show that Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw alerted Copping and Dreeshen that two federal meat inspectors contracted COVID-19 while working at Cargill. This demonstrated that transmission was happening in the plant.

But two hours after receiving Hinshaw’s email, Dreeshen and Copping hosted a virtual townhall meeting with Cargill workers, during which Dreeshen told the workers there was no evidence of workplace transmission and that their workplace was “safe,” says the AFL.

“The UCP’s early response to COVID-19 in Alberta’s meat processing plants was a dangerous brew of lies and incompetence,” says AFL president Gil McGowan. “The record of documents we’re releasing today clearly shows that the UCP was far more concerned about the meat being pumped out of those plants than the health and safety of the thousands of people who worked inside them.”

NDP leader Rachel Notley also criticized Dreeshen for not telling workers about infection transmission inside the plant.

“Devin Dreeshen told workers their workplace was safe when he was fully aware of further transmission occurring in the plant after the protective measures were put in place,” said Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

“Thousands of people got sick. Two workers died. This government was profoundly irresponsible with the lives of these workers and their right to know about safety risks in their workplace,” she said.

“It’s clear we need a full public inquiry into this outbreak and the outbreaks at meat plants across Alberta.”

The High River Cargill plant shut down for two weeks in April 2020 after the outbreak affected more than 1,000 workers and contributed to spread throughout High River and surrounding communities.

There were also COVID-19 outbreaks at the Olymel plant in Red Deer, JBS facility in Brooks, the Harmony Beef facility in Balzac, and another Cargill facility in Calgary.

Red Deer’s Olymel plant has had more than 500 cases and three workers have died. As of last Wednesday, only two cases were active and 515 had recovered.



News tips

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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

Just Posted

Nearly five per cent of Alberta businesses did not survive the first 10 months of the pandemic. (Black Press File photo).
Nearly 5% of Alberta businesses closed during 2020 pandemic

Will more closures happen before it’s over?

Red Deer Rebels forward Arshdeep Bains eyes a loose puck in front of the Medicine Hat Tigers net Saturday night in WHL action at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels fall short in 12th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 (Saturday) Tigers 3 Rebels 2 (Monday) The Red… Continue reading

Red Deer property owners will receive their 2019 property assessment notices in the next few days.  (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer awaiting more details on how federal budget impacts city

The City of Red Deer is awaiting more information on how much… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Priestman says her goal is to help Canada move up the Olympic podium after back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Canada's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 6-3 decision to Scotland's Bruce Mouat in the men's final of the Humpty's Champions Cup. Bottcher makes a shot against Scotland at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Stewart Cink watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) motions to the crowd during a break to mark his passing Gordie Howe for most NHL games played in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Most Read