Dr. Shahab vows not to let protest outside home distract him

·4 min read

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab will continue his work unabated after protests escalated to a new level on Saturday when a group of people stood with signs outside his Regina home.

"The Ministry of Health has indicated that Dr. Shahab will not let this incident distract him from continuing his important ongoing work and is unavailable for comment today," Jim Billington, spokesperson for the Saskatchewan government, said in a statement Monday.

Billington said Premier Scott Moe and Shahab would provide an update on current public health orders and vaccine delivery at a news conference on Tuesday.

The current set of public health restrictions are scheduled to expire on Friday.

Protests of Saskatchewan's public health orders and government policy have been common through the 10 months of the pandemic, but have largely stayed in public areas.

Throughout the spring and summer, there were sporadic protests outside the Saskatchewan legislature and later at the T.C. Douglas Building where Shahab and workers within the Ministry of Health have offices.

The protest moved to Shahab's residence on Saturday.

"We had police respond immediately," Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said.

Officers arrived at around 2:30 p.m. CST, with policing staying for about an hour until protesters left.

"They were a group of protesters we're acquainted with. We've had interactions with them and discussions with them many times, most of them being around the legislature," Bray said.

"The primary focus is on, is there any immediate risk to the safety of anyone, and if there isn't, then the investigative work is done to determine if any potential charges will come from that," Bray said.

The Regina Police Service is currently working with Crown prosecutions to determine if any charges will be laid, according to Bray.

Moe released his own statement Saturday, referring to the people who gathered outside Shahab's home as, "a group of idiots."

"This harassment of Dr. Shahab and his family at their home is simply unacceptable, sickening and wrong," he said. "To those that did this — you should be ashamed of yourselves and your actions."

Moe invited those with concerns about public health measures and decisions by government to contact him or their MLA.

Shahab is a public servant and works under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health. He and his team make recommendations to government, but he does not have the authority to compel them to implement measures.

On Saturday, the province said Shahab and his family were not harmed during the protest.

On Monday, Billington said, "while appropriate steps are being taken to ensure the safety and security of Dr. Shahab, we are unable to provide information regarding security considerations."

In November, Ontario Premier Doug Ford referred to people protesting restrictions outside his home as "buffoons."

In October, people in Manitoba left cardboard tombstones on the front lawn of Premier Brian Pallister's lawn protesting his response to a wave of COVID cases.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported on Saturday that anti-restriction protesters planned to demonstrate outside Pallister's home and police were on scene, but a protest never materialized.

Protests move from the legislature to private residence

In December, an event outside the legislature billed as a "Freedom Rally" drew criticism from Moe when a video showed one speaker making racist remarks toward Shahab.

"Those comments are foolish and they should never be made. Quite frankly, they're nothing short of idiotic," Moe at the time, adding that he was "embarrassed" that people from Saskatchewan made those "disgusting" comments.

"We have a chief medical health officer in this province who we should be very thankful to have. He didn't have to come to Saskatchewan. And he is among the very best, providing the very best public health advice that any province could ask for."

Two organizers of that rally were fined $2,800 for violating public health orders.

On Jan. 12, Regina Leader-Post photographer Brandon Harder captured security escorting Shahab to his vehicle after a media conference at the legislative building. A couple of people held signs near the vehicle, with one reading "Expose Mask Nazis."

After that incident, Moe tweeted, "This kind of harassing behaviour is utterly unacceptable. Dr. Shahab deserves nothing short of our thanks and respect for his dedication to the health and safety of Saskatchewan people."

Doctors group condemns protest

On Monday, the association that represents Saskatchewan physicians condemned the protest outside Shahab's home.

"Bringing a protest to Dr. Shahab's private residence is absolutely unacceptable, and the SMA condemns these actions," said Dr. Barb Konstantynowicz, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, in a release.

She said the SMA commended Moe for telling those that disagree with public health policy to contact elected officials and not civil servants.

"Since the pandemic, physicians and all health-care providers have demonstrated their unwavering commitment to caring for and putting the safety of Saskatchewan citizens first. Everyone's effort to reduce the spread of this virus is critical," Dr. Konstantynowicz said.

"The SMA is extremely grateful for Dr. Shahab's tireless, dedicated efforts in fighting the pandemic on behalf of the people of the province."

CBC News Graphics
CBC News Graphics

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