Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 12:51 UK

Canada anger at 'flu body bags'

A young Inuit boy plays with a husky pup in Nunavut, Canada
Canada's aboriginal peoples have been hit disproportionately by swine flu

Canada's health minister has ordered an investigation after body bags were sent to aboriginal reserves as part of supplies to deal with swine flu.

The body bags were delivered this week to First Nation communities in Manitoba province which were hard hit by a swine flu outbreak a few months ago.

Community leaders said they were "horrified" when they saw the bags.

Health officials have apologised for any alarm caused and say the bags were just sent as routine restocking.

Ordering an inquiry, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the actions of the Health Canada department were unacceptable, insensitive and offensive.

"As minister of health and as an aboriginal, I am offended," she said in a statement on Thursday.

"To all who took offence at what occurred, I want to say that I share your concern and I pledge to get to the bottom of it."

We regret the alarm this incident has caused
Jim Wolfe, Health Canada

First Nations leaders said dozens of body bags had been sent to remote northern indigenous communities, which have suffered a disproportionate number of severe cases of swine flu.

"I was very disturbed and actually frightened that they're actually shipping that number of body bags to the communities," Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans told the Associated Press.

"I thought they were preparing for what the experts were predicting."

Hand gel

Jim Wolfe, the regional director of the First Nations and Inuit branch of Health Canada, said that the body bags had been sent to reserves as part of general medical supplies for winter.

"We really regret the alarm this incident has caused and it was unintended. We order these supplies as a matter of routine business and... this was part of a very normal restocking process," he said.

Ties were already strained between aboriginal communities and the government, after Health Canada delayed sending hand gel to some reserves amid concerns it would be abused by alcoholics.

Health Canada has recorded 76 deaths across the country attributed to the H1N1 virus.

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