Ontario county's top doctor sues Queen's University over 'malicious' comments about his pandemic views

Dr. Matthew Strauss is the acting medical officer of health for Haldimand-Norfolk. Before that, he was an assistant professor of medicine at Queen's University. (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit - image credit)
Dr. Matthew Strauss is the acting medical officer of health for Haldimand-Norfolk. Before that, he was an assistant professor of medicine at Queen's University. (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit - image credit)

Dr. Matthew Strauss — a controversial, acting medical officer of health in southern Ontario — is suing Queen's University and the head of its medicine department for over $600,000, saying he had no choice but to resign from his university position because of "malicious, aggressive, condescending and defamatory statements" made about him.

The statement of claim, filed Oct. 20, states Dr. Stephen Archer, Strauss's direct supervisor and the head of the medicine department at Queen's in Kingston, Ont., constantly berated Strauss over his public criticism of COVID-19 public health measures, including lockdowns.

None of the claims have been proven in court and no statement of defence has been filed.

Queen's University told CBC Hamilton it could not comment on the case and Archer didn't respond to requests for comment. Strauss declined to speak on the record about the statement of claim.

Strauss, the acting medical officer of health for Haldimand and Norfolk counties, has faced criticism for his public comments before.

He previously said on social media he'd sooner give his children COVID-19 over a Happy Meal, and when he was initially brought on as acting medical officer of health in September 2021, the Ontario Liberals called on the health minister to veto his hiring.

Earlier this year, he wrote op-eds to explain his critique of masking and vaccine mandates.

'Be a physician not a publicist'

Strauss worked at Queen's as an assistant professor of medicine from July 2019 to November 2021. He also held privileges as a general internal medicine physician and an intensive care unit (ICU) specialist at Kingston General Hospital, according to the statement of claim.

He previously worked as an assistant clinical professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and as the medical director of critical care at Guelph General Hospital.

Steve Archer/Twitter
Steve Archer/Twitter

The claim says Archer criticized Strauss between August and October 2020 for what Strauss said on social media and in news articles.

"The tone and content of Dr. Archer's communications caused Dr. Strauss to become upset and anxious," reads the claim.

Strauss went on leave from his PhD program in October, according to the claim, but it isn't clear when he returned.

He faced more criticism between December and February, according to the claim.

"Your professed love of freedom of expression is more self-centred than in service of our patients or trainees," reads an email from Archer to Strauss and five others on Dec. 23, 2020, according to the statement of claim.

"You were hired to be a physician not a publicist."

The claim says that despite the criticism, Strauss had an "entirely positive" annual performance review in March 2021.

About a month later, the claim states, Archer and others at Queen's sent correspondence on April 22, 2021, that said Strauss's public comments are "dangerous and misleading," and his behaviour "threatens to endanger patients."

It also said he was "irresponsibly" promoting people to violate public health measures while also "seeding mistrust for public health institutions."

Strauss endured 'significant stress'

"Dr. Archer further threatened Dr. Strauss, noting his medical licence could be in jeopardy and his hospital privileges could be revoked if he continued expressing himself on matters of significant public interest regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and his positions on lockdowns and other restrictions."

The claim states that when Strauss suggested the university wasn't acting in good faith toward him, Archer told Strauss his contract wouldn't be renewed, leading Strauss to have no choice but to leave the institution.

Frédéric Pepin/CBC
Frédéric Pepin/CBC

Strauss's claim says the defamatory comments damaged his relationships, his employment prospects and his ability to earn more money.

He said it also caused him "significant stress, anxiety, emotional pain and suffering."

Strauss resigned from the university on Nov. 19, 2021, despite the fact his contract wasn't set to end until June 30, 2022, according to the claim.

Along with asking for at least $600,000 — which includes a combination of general, moral and punitive damages — the claim asks Queen's for lost wages and benefits.

The claim also requests the defendants remove any defamatory words about Strauss from all media in their control and don't publish any other defamatory words about him.