Quebec minister under fire from First Nations groups for comments on air ambulances

MONTREAL —Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette is defending himself over allegations he made insensitive comments about Indigenous people who use the province’s air ambulance system.

An audio recording of Barrette obtained by Le Devoir and CBC Montreal has him saying in English that within six months there will be at least one case of a person who will not be allowed to board an air ambulance plane because they are agitated, drugged or under the influence.

Barrette told reporters today those comments were taken out of context and were uttered during a conversation with a citizen two weeks ago in his riding on Montreal’s south shore.

The senior government minister says he is profoundly sorry the comments were misunderstood but insists they were about air travel in general and not a direct reference to Indigenous communities.

Some First Nations groups took his comments as reinforcing stereotypes about those living in north.

Tunu Napartuk, the mayor of the Nunavik’s largest village, Kuujjuaq, told the CBC he was profoundly shocked and disappointed by the comments.

Quebec reversed a controversial policy earlier this year that forbade parents or guardians from accompanying their children on emergency flights from northern communities to medical facilities.

Barrette announced in February that at least one parent would be permitted to join their children on the medical flights.

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