Nunavut guests complain about Ottawa isolation hub food

“It’s unacceptable to provide mouldy food like that,” says health minister

A moody night photo of the Residence Inn by Marriott at 1172 Walkley Rd. in Ottawa, where more than 1,200 Nunavut travellers have spent two weeks in isolation since April. Many have voiced complaints about the food. (Photo by Frank Reardon)

By Jane George

Here’s a photo of what greeted Emma Quassa for breakfast on Monday, Sept. 28. (Photo courtesy of Emma Quassa)

(Updated, Oct.2 at 1 p.m.)

Like many Nunavut residents heading north, Emma Quassa of Igloolik is self-isolating in a room, alone, at the Residence Inn in Ottawa for two weeks.

Her isolation, the costs of which are covered by the Government of Nunavut, is part of the government’s effort to keep COVID-19 out of the territory.

But on Monday, her sixth day in isolation, Quassa said she got a bad surprise at breakfast when she opened up the box left outside her door that contained her morning meal.

“This morning I opened it,” she told Nunatsiaq News. “It was gross stuff.”

What she found inside the box was a mouldy egg and English muffin.

Quassa brought the boxed breakfast to the hotel’s reception desk where staff members asked if she wanted another one.

She said no.

“I was hungry when I opened it, but I didn’t have an appetite anymore,” Quassa said.

The food is “the only problem here,” Quassa said, as the rooms are spacious.

The Residence Inn said in a handout to Nunavut travellers that the menu was designed by its executive chef and includes, among other choices, hot country food like caribou or Arctic char, three times a week.

But if you don’t select what you want to eat, you will get chef’s choice, cold, the handout warned.

Quassa is not alone in her complaints about the food service at the Ottawa isolation hub. These have surfaced on the Iqaluit Rant and Rave Facebook page where more than 60 people posted earlier this month about the food at the hotel.

“I ate things I normally wouldn’t eat because of hunger,” said a woman who had stayed at the Residence Inn. “I had no interest reheating any dish, microwaved greasy food is worse.”

About 1,200 have passed through the Ottawa hub to date.

A recent guest in isolation at the hotel shared a photo of a sandwich with Nunatsiaq News. While the sandwich looked like grey “mystery meat,” it was actually fish, she said.

“Day #7 Quarantine—Isolation Abstract Black and White Photo, ‘Half Way There,'” is the title of this photo taken by Frank Reardon, which shows him in silhouette. (Photo by Frank Reardon)

Frank Reardon of Iqaluit, who is currently in isolation at the Residence Inn, told Nunatsiaq News that he had been passing on the delivered breakfasts.

Instead, Reardon, who is obliged to follow a gluten-free diet, received a box of food items that included gluten-free bread, yogurt and eggs for him to eat in the morning.

But despite telling the hotel that he needed to follow a gluten-free diet, Reardon said he receives daily wheat buns and other items he can’t eat at lunch and dinner.

Reardon has frequently posted about his menu during his stay in isolation on Twitter.

He’s freezing all the buns he can’t eat for his kids, he said.

On Monday, Reardon decided to cook for himself for the next four days after he felt he had ingested gluten.

“I also told them I do not want wasted food,” he told Nunatsiaq News.

In other ways, in addition to the food, stays at the Residence Inn have not been smooth for guests: on Aug. 24 guests in the isolation hub had low-risk contact with COVID-19-positive guard and had to prolong their stay.

There have also been reports of unruly behaviour at the Ottawa hub and three other isolation hubs in southern Canada.

At about 9 p.m. yesterday, the police and first responders came to the Residence Inn in Ottawa, said Reardon: this was the third time over the past week that they had come to the hotel.

As of Sept. 21, 786 travellers heading to Nunavut were in isolation, the Government of Nunavut said.

Back in May, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq, said the cost of the individual isolation stays would be $2,100 for one person, and $1,050 for each additional person in a party. The GN said on Sept. 30 that the cost of a stay I isolation comes in at $434 a day or $6,076 for the 14 days.

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes said Oct. 2 during a COVID-19 news conference that he had seen photos of the mouldy food.

“It’s unacceptable to provide mouldy food like that,” he said. “We’re working really hard to give people some options and provide country food.”

Hickes said his department has held meetings about the quality and delivery time of foods served at the isolation hub with the general contractor and the hotel manager.

“They have put in additional quality control measures to ensure this won’t happen again.”

Nunatsiaq News asked the Residence Inn for comment, but the hotel then referred Nunatsiaq News to Nunavut’s Health Department.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the Department of Health responded in an emailed statement, saying the department would not comment on individual cases.

But it said the GN has been working with its service providers to address complaints from the isolation sites “as they arise.”

“All concerns with food are communicated with the hotel staff team. If a dietary restriction has been identified by a traveller, we do our utmost to ensure that the dietary requirements specified are met,” the Health Department said.

A team of government staff in Nunavut is working towards quality improvement at the isolation hubs, the Health Department said: “Our goal is to provide the most safe and pleasant guest experience possible while maintaining strict isolation.”

Guests who would like to submit a formal complaint should contact the Office of Patient Relations, the Health Department said.

The Office of Patient Relations can be reached at 867-975-5703 (toll-free 1-855-438-3003) or by email at pa**************@go*.ca.

This story has been updated with the response from the Government of Nunavut’s Health Department, as well as updated information about the cost of a stay in isolation. It’s also been updated to include a response from Health Minister George Hickes.

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by John K on

    the Government of Nunavut should be drafting a lawsuit. We, as a territory, have paid to be provided a service by these hubs. They have not met their obligations.

  2. Posted by Inuk Man on

    Hotel making $$ and Inuit treated as second citizens… wheres the liaison staff?

  3. Posted by setup to fail on

    chef? fast order cook? DId they work at Larga before?

  4. Posted by Madeleine on

    Maybe the GN should consider allowing either reimbursement for food costs to travellers so they can order their own food and or issue loadable Visa cards for low income travellers, it could be win win for all and a boon to local restaurants. I know when I stayed at the isolation hub in Winnipeg I ordered my own food through Uber eats. I noticed a hotel meal cost sheet and the costs for meals were based on GN duty travel rates, I was shocked. The hotel meals cost maybe half what was charged to the GN. Something to consider

  5. Posted by Carole on

    I think that is disgusting…. people should be getting hot meals,, not cold moldy food,,, if the food is not satisfactory,, they should not be servlng it…

  6. Posted by Chris on

    I had to stay at a different hotel in ottawa in June before going north. Even back then the food was gross. Mystery meat sandwiches , raw burgers, ice cold chicken. Just to name a few. I have been talking to fellow workers and they all had the same experience in ottawa. The GN should do something about this. Check where your money is actually going. I have not heard about complaints from people that had to isolate in winnipeg

    • Posted by John goss on

      The food is no better there!! I wouldn’t give it to my dog to eat!! I stayed at the Hilton! I am going out again in a couple of weeks on medical again!! I guess the same as the last time! God help two weeks of MacDonalds!! I was treated very badly by the government of Nunavut! Just because came from the south!! I made my own arrangements this time! No help from them the last time!! At least I have a room booked! They treat me differently and poorly because I am from the south!! It happens again I will be talking to a layer over it!!!

    • Posted by Nunavik Inuk on

      Don t travel unless you have to. That way you don t have to put up with these kind of headache.

      • Posted by Therese Okkumaluk on

        I would just like to reply to this comment. These are patients who are down here for medical treatments and I’m sure if it was up to them they wouldn’t travel, let alone afford to fly on the very expensive flight like the one half owned by Makivik. Let’s just hope the service gets better anyways.

  7. Posted by Northern Guy on

    The food provided to patients in the isolation hubs is done so under a contract with CG&S. If folks are unhappy with the quality of the food complaints should be sent to CG&S so that they can be addressed with the contractor.

  8. Posted by World traveler on

    People should consider themselves lucky the government is paying for the Quarantine for them. In Australia, citizens returning home have to pay 3000$ for their quarantine out of their own pocket and eat the same gross hotel sandwiches that they had the pleasure of paying 3000$ for. People in Canada are very lucky.

    • Posted by Alicia on

      People in Nunavut are often sent south for medical appointments because we don’t have available specialized care in territory. It would be completely unfair to expect people to pay for quarantine in these circumstances, not to mention would be against the Canada Health Act.

    • Posted by Pujjuut Manitok on

      Would you eat that food? Seriously, I dare you to take the first bite.

  9. Posted by Nick Danger on

    For the first few days I choked the food down. I didn’t want to be too picky. It was edible, if not good. But in the last few days the food quality continues to deteriorate. Seriously, I do not know who the “CHEF” is, but he needs to be replaced. I understand why so many people are ordering from restaurants. This is embarassing. I cook for a living. I wouldn’t feed this food to my worst enemy. Time for a change. The people will revolt if this continues

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