N.S. doctor 'pondering his options' after false child porn allegations

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The lawyer for a Halifax-area doctor says his client is "pondering his options" after being wrongfully accused of accessing and distributing child pornography.

Halifax Regional Police, acting on information from another police agency, started an investigation into Dr. David Barnett in December and arrested him. Barnett, 37, informed the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, which regulates the medical profession in the province.

The college suspended his licence on Dec. 4. But on Monday night it issued a statement saying it was a case of mistaken identity, and that someone with a similar name and email address in Ohio was the actual suspect. It then lifted Barnett's suspension.

"It's a terrible story and I am very sorry this has happened to Dr. Barnett, and the college will do whatever it can to restore his good name in the profession and restore his good name in the eyes of the public," college registrar Dr. Gus Grant said in an interview.

'Unfortunate error'

The case was dismissed Monday in Halifax provincial court, which also meant the following conditions previously imposed on him were removed:

  • That he stay away from anyone under the age of 16.

  • That he stay 50 metres away from schools, parks and other places children frequent.

  • That he not possess a computer.

  • That he not have a device that connects to the internet, other than for work.

Halifax Regional Police acknowledged the mistake in a statement issued Tuesday.

"On January 22, 2021, we were advised by one of the partner agencies that an error had occurred related to their initial identification, and that the referral to HRP was made in error."

The statement did not identify the source of the incorrect information. It went on to acknowledge the damage that has been caused.

"We recognize and regret the deeply negative impact of an unfortunate error of this nature," the police statement concluded.

Pat Atherton, Barnett's defence lawyer, said Tuesday there "absolutely" has been damage done to his client's reputation. Atherton stopped short of saying what Barnett's next steps might be.

"He's very relieved that this part of the process is over and he's looking forward to getting back on with his life, hopefully with the least amount of disruption possible," Atherton said.

Patient didn't believe allegations

One of Barnett's patients, Jackie Barrett, said she was "ecstatic" at the news he had been cleared.

"When I first heard what was going on back in December, I was heartbroken, like literally to tears heartbroken," Barrett said.

"I just couldn't believe it. I didn't believe it. It was just so out of character for what I know of Dr. Barnett in dealing with him for the last two years as a family doctor."

The president of Doctors Nova Scotia, the group which represents physicians in the province, issued a statement saying the organization is there to support Barnett "as he navigates this most horrific event."

"As a physician, I can't imagine the heartbreak and anxiety he has felt over the last month and a half," Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie said.

MacQuarrie said Doctors Nova Scotia offers help to physicians with confidential peer-to-peer counselling through its professional support program.

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