‘Excess Deaths’ From Canada’s COVID Response: Justice Centre Challenges Narrative of ’Success’

‘Excess Deaths’ From Canada’s COVID Response: Justice Centre Challenges Narrative of ’Success’
A storefront displays a "for lease" sign as part of a protest against the Ontario government's pandemic lockdown rules, on Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto on Nov. 24, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Jody White)
Isaac Teo

A Canadian legal advocacy organization is challenging the narrative by governments, media, and medical associations that Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been “successful.”

In a report published on Sept. 13, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) argues that the “prevailing consensus” that the Canadian response to COVID has been successful is biased because there appears to be no reference to the “excess deaths” caused by Canada’s strategy that has been “among the most stringent and sustained lockdown policies in the world.”
“Defining ‘success’ without reference to excess deaths or the vast medical harms experienced by thousands of Canadians would be a mistake,” said the report, titled “Excess Deaths Contradict Narrative of Success.”

“It seems, however, that ‘success’ has been defined only as high vaccination rates, as compliance with public health orders, and as reduced mortality from Covid,” the authors wrote.

“Further, this narrative of success is being referenced as a model or standard for future policy responses to the developing Covid pandemic in Canada,” they added.

‘Enthusiastic Cheerleaders’

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published a study on June 27 saying that Canada performed better than most within the Group of 10 (G10) countries with respect to COVID health burdens, the JCCF report noted.

The CMAJ study defined G10 as including Canada plus 10 other countries with similar medical, economic, and political systems: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“Keeping uncertainties about causation in mind, we can hypothesize that high vaccination percentages and good compliance with sustained public health restrictions explain at least part of Canada’s strong performance in limiting SARS-CoV-2–related health burdens,” the CMAJ study said.

The JCCF says that as a result of the study, many media outlets joined in to parrot the narrative.

“Canadian media organizations (most of which have been enthusiastic cheerleaders for often contradictory government policies) received this study with an uncritical tone,” the JCCF report said.

Examples of failure to adhere to journalist standards, it said, include not investigating the harms created by governments’ COVID policies, and giving insufficient attention to the other findings of the CMAJ study, which stated that “Canada had the second-longest duration of school closures and some of the strictest restrictions and bans on public gatherings in the G10.”

‘Excess Deaths’

The JCCF cited data extracted from Statistics Canada on July 14, arguing that more people were dying than anticipated in the second half of 2021.

“In Quarter 3 (weeks 27-39) and Quarter 4 (weeks 40-52) of 2021, there were nearly 8,000 (4,610 + 3,349 = 7,959) more deaths from non-Covid causes than the expected number of deaths predicted by Statistics Canada from all causes, excluding Covid,” the report said.

“Excess deaths especially impacted the younger-than-45 demographic,” it added.

The authors also noted that nearly every week during that period, the number of non-COVID excess deaths exceeded the number of COVID deaths. “In other words, Covid was not solely responsible for excess deaths.”

Statistics Canada defines excess death as “mortality above what would be expected based on the non-crisis mortality rate in the population of interest.”

“Excess mortality also encompasses collateral impacts of the pandemic, such as deaths occurring because of the overwhelming of the health care system, or deaths avoided due to decreased air pollution or traffic,” said the agency on its website.

Delayed and Missed Health Care

The JCCF report attributes health-care disruptions—cancelled or deferred medical procedures due to lockdown policiesand drug overdoses to be the likely causes of excess deaths in Canada since 2020.
The authors referred to a November 2021 study by consulting firm Deloitte, which was commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association to evaluate the impact of COVID on Canada’s health system, particularly the access to care and the wellness of Canadians.
The study, titled “A struggling system: Understanding the health care impacts of the pandemic,” determined that “delayed and missed health care may have contributed to more than 4,000 excess deaths not related to COVID-19 between August and December 2020.”
In May, Statistics Canada’s data indicating the rise in excess deaths for fall 2021 and early 2022 aligned with Deloitte’s analysis that delayed or missed care due to shutdown of services, among several reasons, may be a contributing factor.
“To some extent, this shift may be caused by indirect effects of the pandemic, such as missed medical appointments and increased substance use,” said the agency.

Opioid Deaths

Deloitte’s study suggested that “substance use may have become more dangerous during the pandemic as individuals have been potentially consuming harmful substances in isolated settings more frequently.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, a total of 7,560 apparent opioid toxicity deaths occurred between January and December 2021.

“This is approximately 21 deaths per day,” said its report titled “Opioid- and Stimulant-related Harms in Canada,” published in June. “In the years prior to the pandemic, there were between 8 (in 2016) and 12 (in 2018) deaths per day.”

“Pro-rating for Q3/4 of 2021 (for which figures are not yet available), one may reasonably assume that approximately 3,700 opioid deaths occurred in Q3 and Q4 of 2021 compared to an average of 2,129 deaths for the same period during the previous five years,” the JCCF report said.

John Carpay, president of JCCF, says attempts to propagate the “successful” narrative cannot pass unchallenged.

“To claim that Canada’s response to the pandemic has been successful is to ignore the immense social and medical harms experienced by Canadians,” he said in a statement on Sept. 15.

“Canadian governments have a legal obligation to demonstrate that any restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms are justifiable and the least restrictive means to solve a problem.”