Ontario Premier Doug Ford walks to a press conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario Premier Doug Ford walks to a press conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

‘Lost for words:’ Grief, anger, generosity after COVID-19 kills Ontario girl, 13

A private member’s bill that would have mandated paid sick leave failed in the Ontario legislature

A 13-year-old girl’s death from COVID-19 at her home in Brampton, Ont., while her mother lay in hospital with the disease sparked an outpouring of grief, anger and community generosity on Monday.

The girl, Emily Viegas, died last Thursday after her father, an essential warehouse worker, reportedly tried to care for her in the family apartment because he worried the overburdened local hospital would transfer her to a facility far from home.

Premier Doug Ford, who has come under scathing criticism for his past refusal to implement paid sick leave for essential workers, expressed condolences for the “terrible loss of this young life.” He called it a “heart-wrenching and a devastating reminder” of the what the virus can do.

“My heart breaks for this family,” Ford, who is in quarantine after a staffer tested positive, said in a statement. “I can’t imagine the unbearable pain and sorrow they are feeling right now.”

According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, Emily had for a week been showing symptoms similar to those that had put her mother in hospital. Her vaccinated father, the family bread winner, feared the hospital would be unable to treat his daughter and opted to keep her at home — where her brother also lives — and tried to nurse her back to health.

Instead, Emily abruptly took a turn for the worse and became one of the country’s youngest pandemic victims.

“It felt real when I found her in bed,” Carlos Viegas told the Globe. “I put my head to her chest and I couldn’t feel nothing. No heartbeat. No nothing. No breathing.”

Brampton is one of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in Canada due to several workplace outbreaks. Health professionals and labour activists have long argued the province had failed to close down infected workplaces and designate their workers as a vaccination priority.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who raised the tragedy in the House of Commons, said Emily’s father did not have paid sick leave.

“Thirteen-year-old Emily did not have to die,” Singh said. “We need to make sure there is paid sick leave.”

In response to Singh’s questioning, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough gave a list of benefits the Liberal government had provided, but made no reference to Emily, leaving Singh visibly agitated.

A private member’s bill that would have mandated paid sick leave failed in the Ontario legislature on Monday, with Ford’s Progressive Conservatives voting it down 55 to 20. Ford said last week that his government would be bringing in a sick-leave policy that would fill “gaps” in a federal benefit.

READ MORE: B.C. begins looking for its own COVID-19 sick pay solution

Several area politicians took to social media to express their condolences, including Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, who called Emily’s death “beyond heart wrenching.”

“As a parent, I am lost for words,” he said. “Horrifying. We can never underestimate the seriousness of COVID-19 and the variants.”

Gurratan Singh, provincial NDP representative from Brampton East, said the city was in a pandemic “crisis,” with people dying at an alarming rate. Brampton has lagged in terms of access to vaccines, said Singh, who accused the Ford government of abandoning the city just northwest of Toronto.

In response, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Brampton had received “significant” assistance.

“There is no suggestion that they’re receiving any less than they’re entitled to,” Elliott told the legislature, where a minute of silence was held Monday.

A fast-rising crowdfunding initiative to raise money for the stricken family topped $80,000 late Monday afternoon, far in excess of its initial $10,000 target.

Adrian Goddard, a friend of Emily’s father who organized the fundraiser, said the money would go to pay funeral and burial costs.

“Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult and unfortunate time,” Goddard wrote.

Emily’s father is a well-known local ball hockey referee. The Ontario Ball Hockey Association expressed its sympathies.

“We regret to inform you that Carlos Viegas lost his daughter Emily Victoria Viegas to COVID this past week and she was only 13 years old,” the association said in a tweet.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board said it was focusing on supporting staff and students hit by Emily’s death.

Last week, Ontario’s chief coroner Dirk Huyer said more people were dying suddenly at home from COVID-19 without having called for an ambulance. Huyer said it was too soon to explain why that might be happening.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said on Monday he worried the province could see more deaths among such young people, saying COVID-19 can “impact very quickly.”

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusOntario

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

Just Posted

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring. (File photo)
North Cowichan considers extending deadline for property tax payments

A two-month deadline extension to Sept. 1 gets three readings

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Letters to the Editor.
Speedy service by operations department

North Cowichan responds to deplorable conditions at Askew Creek Park

The Yellow Sub Machine has been open for business for nearly two months. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Pandemic pivot leads to the creation of the Yellow Sub Machine for gourmet sub grub

Former Odika owners stake their claim in the food truck business

Letters to the Editor.
Southern tribute brings back abundant memories

Growing up a great time with a friend lost far too soon

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read