Listeriosis investigator submits long-awaited report into outbreak

OTTAWA -- An investigator's report into a deadly bacterial outbreak won't be tinkered with before it's released to the public on Tuesday, says the Prime Minister's Office.

OTTAWA -- An investigator's report into a deadly bacterial outbreak won't be tinkered with before it's released to the public on Tuesday, says the Prime Minister's Office.

Sheila Weatherill, who headed a probe into the listeriosis crisis, has handed in her report to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. She was expected to hold a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa to discuss her findings.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the document won't be edited or altered in any way before it is released.

"We're looking at the report right now and she'll present it to the public tomorrow," Kory Teneycke said Monday.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, the party's agriculture critic, demanded Weatherill's report and all accompanying documents be made public immediately.


"We have concerns about this because of the way this government has handled this matter since Day 1," he said in a statement.

"The report from the government's hand-picked investigator, with a limited mandate conducted in private, is not sufficient. They have road-blocked any attempts to provide more transparency about the events of last summer."

Weatherill denied any interference with her probe.

"I have been able to conduct my investigation independently and impartially," she said in a statement.

"There has been no interference from any party whatsoever."

That statement was later stricken from a revised statement issued to news media outlets.

National Public Relations, which is handling media duties for the listeriosis investigation, said the quote came from an earlier draft and nothing should be read into its removal.

"It's true, it's just that we took it out for brevity," spokesman David Rodier said.


"It's just a mistake. We sent out the wrong (statement)."

Weatherill's report will assess how the federal government responded to the crisis in which 22 people died and hundreds more fell ill after eating contaminated deli meats linked to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.

The report will not express findings of criminal or civil liability, but it will make recommendations on how to prevent similar outbreaks.

CTV News reported Monday night that among the recommendations will be a call for more unannounced federal spot checks at meat facilities across the country, and an enhanced role for the chief public health officer in managing food-borne illnesses.

Weatherill and her team conducted more than 100 interviews and amassed some five million pages of information during their six-month probe.

The investigators held closed-door meetings with cabinet ministers and their top aides, senior bureaucrats, various experts, and industry and consumer groups.

Secrecy shrouded their work. Weatherill only once spoke publicly when she appeared in April before MPs on a special panel studying food safety.

Afterward, reporters had to chase her through the corridors of Parliament's Hill's West Block to get her to clarify that she had not yet questioned Ritz.


She has refused to grant interviews.

So far only dribs and drabs have trickled out. Michael Doyle, a Listeria expert who advised Weatherill during the investigation, said the report looks at both the outbreak itself and more generally at food safety in Canada.

"What I've seen, I think, is a pretty good, balanced report," he said.

"I think it does a pretty good job of addressing the issue of the day, which is listeriosis and Maple Leaf product."

Rick Holley, a food-safety expert at the University of Manitoba, met Weatherill this spring in her office at Ottawa's Experimental Farm.

"I still have the impression she's being very conscientious in exploring issues that are somewhat broader than just the specific listeriosis event," he said.

Weatherill is delivering her report four months past the original March 15 deadline set when Harper promised an "arm's-length" investigation on Sept. 6, a day before last year's election was called.

Since then, a half-dozen listeriosis reports have been released.


Reports by Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada have suggested poor co-ordination among governments and agencies over food safety has been putting Canadians' health at risk.

The Ontario government released its own post-mortem rapping the knuckles of federal and provincial health authorities for failing to work together during the outbreak.

A House of Commons subcommittee studying food safety couldn't reach a consensus after hearing from dozens of witnesses this spring, so it released two dissenting reports.

Opposition MPs called for a public inquiry into the outbreak, while the smaller number of Conservative MPs on the panel made no mention of an inquiry in their report and pledged to await Weatherill's findings.

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