Dreeshen took COVID-19 safety equipment from emergency workers to give to meatpacking plants, documents suggest

Minister Dreeshen interfered with Alberta’s emergency response while packing plant ran without PPE

EDMONTON – Minister Dreeshen’s office interfered with the provincial emergency response to COVID-19 to take personal protective equipment (PPE) away from municipal first responders and seniors’ home workers so that he could have a photo opportunity at a meatpacking plant that was running without, according to documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).

“The Kenney government’s response to COVID-19 in Alberta’s meatpacking plants has been an absolute mess from the start,” says Gil McGowan, president of the AFL. “Minister Dreeshen’s office knew at least one meatpacking plant was running without PPE. Rather than shutting down an unsafe workplace, they asked provincial emergency management to take safety equipment from municipal first responders, seniors’ home workers, and respiratory therapists, according to the internal government documents we obtained.”

The information obtained by the AFL show at least one meatpacking plant, Harmony Beef, was promised PPE by Dreeshen, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. An official at Harmony Beef emailed Dreeshen’s office to plea for the promised safety equipment because they ran out of masks and face shields and were at risk of shutting down. Dreeshen’s staff asked the head of Alberta’s emergency management to intervene. Dreeshen’s staff were told, “this clearly impacts on other organizations of higher priority like municipal first responders, respiratory therapists and seniors [sic] homes.”

“Minister Dreeshen’s office interfered with Alberta’s emergency response. Dreeshen promised PPE when he shouldn’t have. He knew at least one packing plant was operating without adequate PPE because they told him that was the case,” says McGowan. “Provincial officials said by diverting safety equipment to packing plants, they’d be depriving higher priority workers. The documents suggest Dreeshen got the PPE and wanted to personally deliver it, presumably for a photo op.

“The information we’re releasing today is in addition to our release last week that shows Dreeshen lied to Cargill workers that their workplace was safe and that he altered internal government documents to suggest the blame for the outbreak was on the workers themselves, rather than workplace conditions."

“These documents show a clear case of interference in the province’s emergency response that may have made other workers in other workplaces sick, but they are heavily redacted and beget more questions. Did other packing plants get favourable treatment, or were they operating without PPE like Harmony Beef? How many first responders and seniors’ homes workers went without PPE if Harmony and other companies got prioritized because of Dreeshen’s political interference?”

“We are renewing our call for a public inquiry into the province’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in Alberta’s meatpacking plants. Thousands of workers got sick and seven died. Many more were infected in these workers’ homes and communities. Only a public inquiry can show the extent of the government’s mishandling of the outbreaks across the province.”


Backgrounder PPE

Ramona Franson
Director of Communications, AFL
[email protected]