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Selby sorry for rekindling old hurts

Apologizes for comments about 12 infants' deaths

Health Minister Erin Selby: family doesn't accept apology

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Health Minister Erin Selby: family doesn't accept apology (MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Health Minister Erin Selby says she's sorry for comments she made two weeks ago about the deaths of 12 infants during heart surgery in Winnipeg two decades ago.

But a grandmother of one of the babies who perished is not impressed with the apology.

Two weeks after bringing up the sensitive issue in a partisan exchange during a legislative committee meeting, Selby apologized to the infants' families -- if not to the politicians she directed the comments to in the first place.

"It was never my intention for these families to relive this tragedy, and I am sorry," Selby told the legislature on Tuesday.

A day earlier, she had refused to apologize for her remarks both inside the house and when asked directly by the Free Press.

Margaret Feakes, grandmother to Ashton Feakes, one of the 12 infants who died, blasted Selby on Monday for opening up old wounds after the health minister's comments were reported in the media.

On Tuesday, she and her husband, John, were at home, watching question period on television and witnessed the minister's apology.

"I'm not accepting it because she (Selby) was forced into it, and I don't believe it was genuine," Margaret Feakes said afterwards.

Feakes said she believes the minister was pressured by advisers to say she was sorry. "I don't believe that she cares at all. Why couldn't she have picked up the phone and talked to me?"

Selby directed her original comments to the Conservative Opposition during intense questioning in committee over the STARS helicopter ambulance program. She accused the former Filmon administration of ignoring problems with the pediatric cardiac program surgery 20 years ago at Health Sciences Centre. "It is hard for me to imagine, but they allowed 12 babies to die and still didn't take into consideration what happened to learn from such devastation that those families went through," she said.

A subsequent report into the tragedy did not fault elected officials.

Selby offered the apology in answer to questions by the Conservatives. The entire NDP caucus rose in the house to give her an ovation afterwards.

Conservative health critic Myrna Driedger said it is "disturbing" it took the minister so long to apologize. "Mr. Speaker, it was only because of public pressure that she has stood in this house. It does not come from an honest feeling in her heart."

But Selby said she realized the pain her remarks had caused and reiterated she never intended to hurt any of the families involved in the pediatric-surgery tragedy. "Things get passionate in here. We debate and sometimes don't always choose our words as carefully," she told the house.

Selby later sidestepped questions about whether the Tories themselves were owed an apology for her comments.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

What will it take for politicians to choose their words more carefully? Join the conversation in the comments below.

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