Court case of doctor accused in Campbellton COVID-19 outbreak delayed a month

·4 min read

The court case of a doctor accused of being the source of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Campbellton region last May that claimed two lives, infected dozens and forced that northern part of New Brunswick back into the orange phase of recovery has been adjourned for a month.

Dr. Jean Robert Ngola, 50, is charged with violating the Emergency Measures Act by allegedly failing to self-isolate for 14 days after travelling to Quebec.

He was scheduled to appear in Campbellton provincial court on Monday to face the charge, but one of his lawyers, Christian Michaud, told Judge Suzanne Bernard via teleconference that they only recently received disclosure from the Crown and needed more time to review the file.

Bernard set the matter over until Nov. 23 at 9:30 a.m.

Ngola, who is now based in Louiseville, Que., is expected to enter a plea at that time.

The charge stems from an RCMP investigation following a complaint filed by the provincial government and the Vitalité Health Network on May 30 "related to an individual who may have violated the mandatory order under the current Emergency Measures Act by travelling outside of N.B., and not following the guidelines of self-isolating upon their return," RCMP Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh previously said in an emailed statement.

Ngola, who is also known as Jean Robert Ngola Monzinga and as Ngola Monzinga, previously told CBC he travelled overnight to Montreal on May 12 to retrieve his four-year-old daughter because her mother had to travel to Africa for a funeral.

He said he had a previously scheduled conference call with two doctors in Trois-Rivières on May 13 regarding a potential job at their clinic but decided to meet with them in person instead since he was passing through. They met for 20 minutes, wearing masks and gloves, and sat two metres apart, he said.

The only other stop Ngola said he made was at a gas station in La Pocatière, Que., where he filled up his car and bought some food.

At the New Brunswick border checkpoint, Ngola said he told peace officers that he was a doctor and that he had travelled overnight to pick up his daughter. He said he was given a pamphlet with general instructions about self-isolating.

Ngola told CBC he did not self-isolate upon his return to Campbellton, a city of about 6,800. He went straight back to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital.

The COVID-19 outbreak began May 21. A total of 41 people in the Campbellton region became infected, and two of them, who were in their 80s, died.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Ngola is charged with failing to comply with a direction, order or requirement between May 13 and May 28, "namely: 'every person who has been outside of New Brunswick must self-isolate within their home for 14 days after their return to New Brunswick,' contrary to and in violation of paragraph 24(1)(b) of the Emergency Measures Act,'" court documents state.

"We'll fight it on the facts — because on the facts, Jean Robert was not wrong," his lead lawyer, Joël Etienne, of Toronto, has said.

Vitalité provided CBC with a copy of a self-assessment checklist emailed to all employees on April 6 that specified that anyone who travelled outside of New Brunswick — except those who commute from Quebec or Maine — had to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

Ngola said he received the email but contends "there was a lot of confusion," and other doctors he worked with had not self-isolated after travelling out of province.

Etienne has described the charge as "tantamount to a traffic ticket." It is not a criminal charge under the Criminal Code of Canada but rather is punishable under the Provincial Offences Procedures Act, Etienne stressed.

The section carries a fine of between $240 and $10,200 for a first offence.

If the case goes to trial, Toronto-based lawyer Nathan Gorham will join Ngola's legal team and the proceedings will likely be held in both officials languages, Michaud advised the court.

During the Campbellton outbreak, Premier Blaine Higgs had blamed an "irresponsible" medical professional who travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, "was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick" and didn't self-isolate.

Although Higgs never publicly named who he was referring to, Ngola was soon widely identified as the individual and became the subject of threats and racism, his lawyers allege.

Ngola disputes he is 'patient zero' and contact tracing casts doubt on whether he was the source.

He plans to sue the provincial government and Vitalité Health Network, and his lawyers are calling for a public and criminal inquiry into how he was treated.

They allege his confidential health information was leaked on social media less than an hour after he received his COVID-19 test results on May 27.