FREDERICTON — Lawyers for a doctor who faced a barrage of hate and racism after being accused of violating COVID-19 measures in New Brunswick say time is running out for Premier Blaine Higgs to apologize.
Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola was accused of violating the province's Emergency Measures Act, but the Crown withdrew the charge last week after concluding there was no chance of conviction.
On May 27, 2020 in the face of a growing outbreak in Campbellton, N.B., Higgs referred to an "irresponsible" health-care worker and said the matter was being handled by the RCMP. The outbreak eventually affected 40 people and resulted in two deaths.
News got out that Ngola, a family doctor working in the northern New Brunswick town at the time, was the suspect in the RCMP's investigation after his positive COVID-19 status was leaked on social media.
Before he tested positive, Ngola had driven to Montreal to pick up his daughter, because her mother was travelling to Africa to attend a funeral. He did not self-isolate for two weeks when he returned, as provincial health guidelines direct, but Ngola said that was consistent with the practice of other physicians at his hospital.
Now he and his lawyers are threatening legal action if Higgs does not publicly apologize by the end of this week for the statements the premier made last year.
"We gave the premier seven days to do the right thing and to apologize — the clock is ticking," Ngola's lawyers Joel Etienne and Christian Michaud said in a statement released late Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday in the provincial legislature, Higgs repeated his stance that he had done nothing wrong and suggested the full story has not come out. "If Dr. Ngola thinks that I disclosed his identity or thinks I breached his privacy, then all the facts should be on the table," Higgs said.
He said if Ngola waived his right to privacy, the premier would make more information about the case public.
"If he suggests that, 'OK, I'll give you a waiver, and I will not charge you for privacy,' I'll reveal all the information I know about this case, all of it, and then we'll end this discussion," Higgs said. "So there. Let's put it on the table."
In their statement, Ngola's lawyers said lawyers acting on behalf of Higgs previously told the court they had no documents, communications or evidence in any form from Higgs or his office in relation to the Ngola matter.
"If Higgs has any evidence, nothing stops him from giving the evidence to us, the Ngola lawyers — you don't have to give up your privacy rights for your lawyers to receive documents. Why is he constantly treating Ngola differently then all the other citizens of the province?" they asked.
Ngola, a physician of Congolese descent, has since relocated to Quebec.
When questioned by reporters about his remarks in the legislature, Higgs would say only there was information that to his knowledge had not been shared publicly.
Etienne said Wednesday that a news conference will be held Friday to discuss his client's next steps.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press