Sask.'s top medical officer must protect public from COVID-19, even if government disagrees, say experts

·2 min read
Experts say Saskatchewan's chief medical health oficer Dr. Saqib Shahab, pictured, can and must issue COVID-19 public health orders immediately to protect the public, even if Premier Scott Moe disagrees. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Experts say Saskatchewan's chief medical health oficer Dr. Saqib Shahab, pictured, can and must issue COVID-19 public health orders immediately to protect the public, even if Premier Scott Moe disagrees. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, can and must issue COVID-19 public health orders immediately whether the government likes it or not, say Canadian medical, legal and ethics experts.

They say Saskatchewan has become a national "outlier" because of both skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and the continued refusal to implement indoor masking, vaccine passports or other evidence-based safety measures.

To this point, Shahab has not gone against the wishes of the government. But the experts say he has the legal authority and a moral obligation to act.

"The answer is clear. I don't think there's any question. His primary obligation is to protect public health," said University of Manitoba bioethicist Arthur Schafer.

"When the lives and health of the public are involved, health professionals have the highest ethical obligation to act in a way that's consistent with the public wellbeing."

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Shutterstock

Dr. Dennis Kendel, former registrar with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, agreed. He said Premier Scott Moe has spent weeks ignoring the facts, the general public which favours more action, and Shahab. Kendel said Shahab should act now.

"It's so obvious all this is so politically driven. We're standing alone right now. We're the outlier," Kendel said.

"This is why we have public health officers. To keep the public healthy. Controlling human suffering and death is the single most crucial thing public health officers do."

University of Calgary professor Lorian Hardcastle said Saskatchewan's situation could not be more urgent. She said each province has slightly different legislation and powers for its chief medical health officer. She agreed to review Saskatchewan's legislation for CBC News, and said Shahab clearly has the power to act alone.

Hardcastle noted all previous health orders have been issued and signed by Shahab alone.

"Before it lays out the substance of the order, it actually notes these orders have been given legal force and that compliance is mandatory."

It also states the orders will remain in effect until a specified date or "in the opinion of the chief medical health officer, there is no longer a public health threat."

Tahirih Foroozan/CBC
Tahirih Foroozan/CBC

Hardcastle and others say Shahab is likely doing his best to try to influence the government from within, but there has been little action for weeks as case numbers and hospitalizations shot up. They note that Moe or Minister of Health Paul Merriman can fire Shahab and undo any orders, but that would be a huge political gamble that would further alienate the government from the medical community.

The rest of the province's medical health officers recently issued an open letter demanding masks, vaccine passports and other measures.

No one from the government was made available Thursday morning, but a news conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. CST Thursday in Saskatoon.

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