Tag Archives: Doctor

‘Shock and disbelief’ in Hawkesbury, Ont., after doctor charged with murder, but locals have faith in hospital

As Susan Conway waited for her daughter to be treated at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital, she expressed more concern about safety over the recent COVID-19 outbreaks than news that a doctor has been charged with first-degree murder.

But while the arrest this week of Dr. Brian Nadler won’t deter Conway or her family from using the hospital, she also told CBC News on Saturday that the murder charge revelation has certainly rocked the small community of Hawkesbury, which is located between Ottawa and Montreal, and the surrounding area.

“The community is learning about this, and everyone is in shock and disbelief,” said Conway, who worked 15 years as an OPP dispatcher. “You don’t think about this [happening] in this close-knit town.

“Just horrible, just horrible. And I feel for the family of this poor soul who has been taken.”

WATCH | Hawkesbury residents react to doctor’s murder charge:

Residents say the town is small and most people know everyone so the news comes as a shock. 0:38

Residents of the town, which has a population of about 10,000, say they’re stunned by the arrest and word that Ontario Provincial Police are still investigating multiple “suspicious deaths” at the hospital.

It’s kind of like a cultural shock to hear these things happen here, too.– Elian Renaud, Hawkesbury resident

But most of those interviewed by CBC News also said they’ll continue to use the hospital — a bilingual, 100-bed facility with a range of programs and services from its main campus in Hawkesbury, and two satellite centres in Clarence-Rockland and Casselman.

Nadler, a specialist in internal medicine, was arrested Thursday evening. The 35-year-old, who lives in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Que., appeared in court on Friday and was charged with one count of first-degree murder. As of early Sunday, police hadn’t provided details about the deceased person or how many deaths they’re investigating.

“Its complete crazy, for a small town,” said resident Suzie Lalonde. “Everybody talking about it.”

Elian Renaud said these are the kind of stories you hear coming out of big cities like Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto. 

“You’re from a small town, everyone here knows each other and nothing ever happens in this town, crazy like that,” he said. “It’s kind of like a cultural shock to hear these things happen here, too.”

2 COVID-19 outbreaks

The murder case is another black mark this month for the hospital, which was also hit by two COVID-19 outbreaks.

Provincial police were called to Hawkesbury and District General Hospital on Thursday. Dr. Brian Nadler, 35, was arrested and charged with murder the next day. (Joe Tunney/CBC)

Earlier this week, the hospital confirmed 16 patients and five staff had tested positive for COVID-19, and five deaths have been linked to the virus.

Conway, who has lived in the area all her life, said the redevelopment of the hospital and how it’s been “built up all brand new,” along with the addition of more specialists, have been “wonderful for the whole community.”

But now, local officials are being forced to focus on the arrest of one of its doctors and assuage fears.

On Friday, Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly asked people to remain calm and not be afraid to seek care at the hospital.

The next day, OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson told CBC News that, for the people of Hawkesbury, “this is a traumatic experience for everyone.”

WATCH | OPP spokesperson speaks on how the murder investigation is affecting families:

OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson answers questions about investigation into suspicious deaths at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital. 0:37

Retiree Ana Lecuyer had recently been transferred to the Hawkesbury hospital for her three-times-a-week dialysis treatment, a welcome development that meant she no longer had to make the hour-plus trek to Ottawa.

She has nothing but praise for the facility, but the murder charge has left her shaken. 

I’m stressed out. It bothers me a lot.– Ana Lecuyer, on learning about police investigation

“I didn’t want to come back to the hospital,” she said. “I’m stressed out. It bothers me a lot.”

Carole Gocmanac, however, says she has complete confidence in the safety of her former mother-in-law, who is 99 and currently in the Hawkesbury hospital. 

“Her family’s always there,” said Gocmanac, who praised the hospital, and its staff and cleanliness.

Guylaine Lafrance also supports the hospital, but is concerned over its due diligence in checking the work history of doctors. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Guylaine Lafrance also expressed support for the hospital, but raised concerns over its due diligence in checking the work history, or “the priors,” of doctors. 

During Nadler’s residency at the University of Saskatchewan’s medical school from July 2014 to September 2018, he faced two unprofessional conduct charges, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has said.

Documents show one charge was for allegedly calling a female colleague a “bitch” after an argument and telling someone else he “felt like slapping” that colleague. Another charge involved patient record-keeping. But the college didn’t pursue the charges after Nadler apologized and took a couple of courses.

Nadler, who attended universities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and was licensed in February 2020 to practise medicine in Ontario, is set to make his next court appearance in April. (Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta)

Chris Bennett, who also was a patient at the Hawkesbury hospital, suggested it’s too early to determine whether officials there should have done a more thorough background check on the doctor.

“You can maybe understand the need for doctors,” he said. “They’re not going to turn away anybody if it’s something that was minor there.”

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CBC | Health News

Doctor charged with murder after multiple deaths at Hawkesbury, Ont., hospital

A doctor has been charged with first-degree murder as police investigate multiple suspicious deaths at the eastern Ontario hospital where he works, CBC News has learned.

Ontario Provincial Police were called to the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital, which is between Ottawa and Montreal, on Thursday evening, police said in a news release.

At a court appearance on Friday, Brian Nadler, 35, who lives in the western Montreal suburb of Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, was charged with one count of first-degree murder.

“Dr. Nadler maintains his innocence and the charges will be rigorously defended,” Ottawa defence lawyer Alan Brass told CBC News.

Nadler, photographed here in a thumbnail on the Alberta Medical Association’s website for a 2013 article, is scheduled to be in court on April 6. (Alberta Medical Association)

His next court appearance is scheduled for April 6.

Police didn’t say how long the investigation has been going on or how many deaths are being investigated. Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner is involved, it confirmed in an email.

“At this point in time, while we don’t know exactly how big this investigation will be, we are looking at other suspicious deaths that have occurred recently at the Hawkesbury hospital,” said OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson.

“Whether it proves that they are indeed something criminal or not, we will have to wait and see.”

He encouraged anyone with information to contact the local detachment.

“We promise we’ll conduct a complete and thorough investigation that you deserve to make sure that you in the Hawkesbury area and everyone else gets the answers,” Dickson said.

Police were called to the hospital, which is between Ottawa and Montreal, on Thursday evening, and cruisers were still there into Friday morning. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

The hospital said in a statement that all patient services are being maintained and all appointments are being kept.

“We want to reassure our patients, their families and the entire community that the hospital campus is a safe place,” it said in its message released in French.

The hospital said it is working with police and is in touch with the families that have been affected. It’s also offering counselling and other services to its staff.

The hospital has also been dealing with two active COVID-19 outbreaks.


Doctor has Saskatchewan ties

Nadler has been licensed in Ontario since Feb. 4, 2020. He graduated from Montreal’s McGill University in 2010.

He was a resident at the University of Saskatchewan’s medical school from July 2014 to September 2018, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan told CBC in an email.

During that time, he faced two unprofessional conduct charges, the college said.

Documents show one charge was for allegedly calling a female colleague a “bitch” after an argument and telling someone else he “felt like slapping” that colleague. Another charge involved patient record-keeping.

The incidents linked to both charges allegedly occurred the same day in August 2014.

The college said he apologized and took a pair of courses about ethics and record-keeping. It did not proceed any further with the charges.

WATCH | Hawkesbury mayor urges calm: 

Paula Assaly, mayor of Hawkesbury, says the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital remains open as provincial police investigate several suspicious deaths there. Police have charged a doctor with one count of first-degree murder. 0:30

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, which regulates and investigates doctors, said in a statement it will immediately look into “these extraordinarily disturbing allegations.”

Mayor Paula Assaly asked people to remain calm and not be afraid of seeking care at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital.

She also said she didn’t know the accused.

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CBC | Health News

Tentative agreement would allow Alberta to withhold doctor pay to balance physician budget

A tentative agreement between Alberta’s doctors and the provincial government would set the current physician services budget at the 2018-19 level and allow the government to withhold payments from doctors if overspending is expected.

The agreement also appears to signal that the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) has abandoned its attempt to secure binding arbitration, which has been used in other provinces to resolve disagreements. 

A letter signed by both Health Minister Tyler Shandro and AMA president Dr. Paul Boucher says a condition of the agreement would be the AMA discontinuing its $ 250 million lawsuit against the province that sought binding arbitration.

CBC News has obtained a leaked copy of the agreement, which members of the AMA are now reviewing for potential ratification.

The agreement, dated Feb. 26, outlines the proposed physician services budget for the next three years:

  • $ 4.571 billion for 2020-21 through 2021-22, the same amount as the actual physician services cost for 2018-19.
  • $ 4.621 billion for 2022-23.
  • $ 4.671 billion for 2023-24.

The tentative agreement comes after a bitter public fight between the two parties that began in February 2020 when Shandro unilaterally ended the AMA master agreement and imposed a new physician compensation framework.

That sparked a public outcry from the AMA and many of the province’s doctors.

The new agreement makes it clear Shandro has ultimate authority over the amounts paid to doctors.

“The AMA acknowledges that the physician services budget is established by the minister in the minister’s sole discretion,” it states.

“The AMA further acknowledges that nothing in this agreement fetters the minister’s authority or discretion with respect to the physician services budget.”

CBC News has reached out to Shandro for comment. An AMA spokesperson said doctors are declining comment during the ratification period.

The agreement appears “quite favourable” to the government, according to University of Calgary health law professor Lorian Hardcastle.

“I think that the government kept most things that they probably wanted to keep in this agreement, for example, the cap on the budget. And I think that the government kept the things that they wanted to keep out of this agreement, namely any guarantees around binding mediation or binding arbitration,” Hardcastle said.

She said the AMA’s negotiators likely decided to offer the agreement to their members now because they feel there is nothing more they can get from the government. 

Province could withhold payments 

The agreement says Alberta Health will monitor the expenditures under the physician services budget every month and, if the actual costs are expected to exceed those budgeted, “a determination will be made if strategies and measures to reduce the expenditures are to be implemented.”

This won’t occur for overspending in 2021-22 through 2023-24 attributed to physician growth exceeding population growth.

It states that the ministry will consult with the AMA as it develops those strategies to prevent overspending. But one of those possible methods will likely prove contentious with the province’s doctors.

“The strategies may include withholding amounts from physician payments,” it says.

If withholding payments is used as a strategy, any amounts left over at the end of the year that aren’t necessary to balance the budget “will be returned to physicians proportionate to their original contribution” to the amount withheld.

Hardcastle said she suspects most of the province’s doctors will be concerned about their pay being reduced to cover the cost of any budget overspending. And she said the public also may have concerns in the future. 

“Patients may be concerned that their doctors may see fewer patients if they are in a situation where certain visits are being capped or certain services aren’t being billed at the full rate,” she said. 

If the AMA does not agree with those budget-balancing strategies, or the government refuses an AMA request to adjust the physician services budget, it can take the matter to a mediator.

The agreement lists four lawyers who can act as mediators.

But any recommendations from the mediator would be non-binding.

If the mediation report is not accepted by both parties, Alberta Health “agrees to consider the mediation report before making its final decision on the issue mediated,” the agreement states.

The agreement would expire March 31, 2024.

Alberta Health, in the agreement, has committed to tabling legislation by Dec. 31, 2021 that would exempt the agreement from legislation that allows the government to terminate the master agreement with the AMA.

“I think that certainly this is going to be a tough sell to the members of the AMA,” Hardcastle said. “What we are seeing on social media already is that some doctors are quite opposed to this.”

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CBC | Health News

Prioritizing people with specific conditions for COVID vaccine slows race for herd immunity: N.S.’s top doctor

Amanda Robinson used to work part time five days a week for an organization that supports adults with disabilities. She went to bingo and bowling on the weekends and attended a Friday night social.

It all disappeared when COVID-19 struck.

Robinson, 36, has Down syndrome and is largely non-verbal. Her mother keeps her close to home these days because she worries about what will happen if her daughter contracts the coronavirus. 

“Amanda going out puts her life at risk every day and she doesn’t even know it,” said Carolin Robinson, outside her family’s home in Halifax. 

Robinson points to research in the U.K. that suggests people with Down syndrome who contract COVID-19 have a significantly increased risk of death. She is among the advocates across the country calling on governments to prioritize vaccinating people with disabilities. 

Amanda Robinson, left, with her mother, Carolin, and her brother, Aaron, in their Halifax home. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Some Canadian provinces are prioritizing people with various disabilities to varying degrees, but Nova Scotia, which currently has 29 active cases of COVID-19, is among those that are not, unless the individuals live in congregate settings such as group homes. 

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, says the province is focusing on vaccinating by age, beginning with people 80 and older, and working down by brackets of five years at a time.  

“We certainly understand lots of different groups thinking about their own risk or the risk within their group, and I understand that perspective,” he said during a recent interview at Nova Scotia’s Department of Health. 

In fact, Strang understands better than most. 

His son, who turns 16 in September, lives with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, including autism, chronic pain and a mutation in the GRIN2A gene that causes a range of neurodevelopmental disorders.  

Speed is key 

But Strang insists age is “by far” the biggest risk factor. He also said it’s important to have a vaccine program that is fast and efficient, and trying to figure out how to prioritize a range of conditions would significantly delay the overall process.  

“It’ll be so much slower,” he said.

Because of his age, Strang’s son is going to be among the last to be vaccinated, he said. “But he’s going to be well protected because we’ve rapidly built herd immunity all around him.”

Nova Scotia has a higher percentage of people living with disabilities than any other province in Canada. 

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, with his son, now 15. Despite the fact his son has severe physical and intellectual disabilities, Strang says he’s confident in the province’s age-based approach to determining the order for vaccinating the public. (Submitted by Dr. Robert Strang )

Krista Carr, the executive vice-president of Inclusion Canada, a national organization that works on behalf of people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, wants all provinces and territories to create a separate vaccination category for people with disabilities and to clearly define who that will include. 

She acknowledges different disabilities might need to be prioritized in different ways. For example, some people may need to be moved up the list because they’ve been more isolated or unable to protect themselves by physically distancing because they rely on support workers, and others need to be prioritized because of their physical health. 

“People with disabilities often have co-occurring health conditions that go along with their disability, so that puts them at higher risk for the virus,” she said. 

She said by not creating a separate category to prioritize their vaccination, “we’re telling people with disabilities they don’t matter, and that’s just the wrong message to send.” 

Some provinces are prioritizing in various phases

British Columbia plans to vaccinate people who are “clinically extremely vulnerable” including “adults with very significant developmental disabilities that increase risk” in Phase 3. 

New Brunswick intends to vaccinate people who have “select complex medical conditions,” including people who live with Down syndrome, in Phase 2.

Ontario has released a specific list of conditions that put people at an “increased risk of serious illness and death regardless of age” and will be included in Phase 2 vaccinations.  

Alberta says it will prioritize people “with underlying health conditions” in its Phase 2, but it has not yet determined the list of conditions that will qualify. 

Strang not ‘rigid’ in thinking

Strang says he is very comfortable with Nova Scotia’s approach but is not “rigid” in his thinking and will make changes if there is a shift in the science, epidemiology or vaccine supply.

Robinson says the idea of building herd immunity doesn’t give her peace of mind. She says the risks are just too high and the statistics too stark. 

“All my life, I’ve been fighting for her,” she said. “I’m her voice, and I wonder when I don’t need to be her voice, that it just happens because it should.”

Robinson said she’s not asking for her daughter to be first, just prioritized, so she can feel safer, sooner. 

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Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons cautions doctor after complaints about COVID-19 tweets

The regulatory body for doctors in Ontario has issued three separate cautions to a pediatrician following a series of complaints about her tweets on COVID-19 and the pandemic.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario posted the findings from its inquiries, complaints and reports committee overnight Wednesday on its public listing for Dr. Kulvinder Kaur Gill.

The complaints related to a series of tweets from Gill’s account last summer that challenged accepted public health advice and regulations.

The tweets that prompted the complaints included: “There is absolutely no medical or scientific reason for this prolonged, harmful and illogical lockdown.”

Another tweet read: “If you have not yet figured out that we don’t need a vaccine, you are not paying attention.”

The complaints committee noted that while there is a range of views about lockdowns and even some drawbacks, Gill didn’t raise those points in the tweets. It found that her statements lacked evidence, didn’t align with public health and were not accurate. The committee pointed to lockdowns in China and South Korea, which did appear to have a mitigating impact on the spread of the virus. 

“For the respondent to state otherwise is misinformed and misleading and furthermore an irresponsible statement to make on social media during a pandemic,” the committee wrote.

It also evaluated her claim that a vaccine was not needed. It noted that a herd immunity strategy “would involve a significant death rate” and that Gill did not provide any evidence for her claim. It concluded that the tweet was “irresponsible” and a “potential risk to public health.”

Doctor said tweets taken out of context

According to the documents, Gill claimed that her tweets were taken out of context and argued they came from a personal Twitter account that is not affiliated with her practice. The committee did not agree with her.

It noted that her Twitter biography made it clear that she is a physician and identifies her as the leader of the group Concerned Ontario Doctors.

According to the decision documents, Gill was cautioned in person, “with respect to a lack of professionalism and failure to exercise caution in her posts on social media, which is irresponsible behaviour for a member of the profession and presents a possible risk to public health.” 

The hearing was held on Feb. 3.

In an email to CBC News, the college said a “caution” is one of the ways in which it is empowered to respond to concerns about a physician’s conduct.

It said the information is posted to the doctor’s public profile so patients “can be aware of the concerns and make informed decisions about their care.”

It also noted that the presence of cautions on a physician’s record can also impact any future complaints and disciplinary action by the college.

The college said it has been notified Gill plans to appeal at least two of the cautions.

Gill did not respond to CBC News’s request for comment.

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Reopening plans ‘shortsighted,’ doctor says as Ontario reports 1,087 new COVID-19 cases

A doctor who was demoted after speaking out about the province’s handling of the pandemic expressed concern on Sunday about Ontario’s reopening plans as the province reported 1,087 new COVID-19 cases. 

Dr. Brooks Fallis, a critical care physician at the William Osler Health System, said in an interview on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live that he believes Ontario is headed for a third wave amid the rising numbers of cases involving variants of concern, and that not enough is being done to prevent it. 

“I think we’re doing really everything too quickly,” Fallis said.

“I think we should be taking a real pause across the province and across the country to realize how serious the implications of these variants are.” 

The province reported on the weekend that there are more than 400 cases of variants of concern in Ontario.

There are 391 cases of the B117 variant, the one first detected in the United Kingdom, nine cases of the B.1.351 variant, the one first detected in South Africa, and one case of the P.1 variant, the one first detected in Brazil.

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live, Dr. Brooks Fallis speaks out against reopening plans in several provinces as officials study potential implications of the spread of new COVID-19 variants. 8:46

Along with variants being more transmissible and potentially more deadly, Fallis said there is potential for immune evasion for some strains. That means if a person contracted COVID-19 once, that person could get it again.

Once a variant of concern is established, particularly the variant first detected in the United Kingdom, it’s very hard to contain, according to Fallis. 

From an economic perspective, Fallis said the reopening plans are “shortsighted,” noting that the variants will “explode” in the population and lead right back to a lockdown.

“I don’t really believe that it helps businesses to give them a short period of reopening, only to close them for longer because we open the door to the new variants.”

Fallis has been publicly critical of the province’s pandemic response, something he has said led to a demotion earlier this year as interim medical director of critical care at the William Osler Health System.

Both his employer and Premier Doug Ford’s office deny that claim.

Fallis has said speaking out and advocating for a better response will meaningfully save lives and change the outcome of the pandemic, something he says is a physician’s obligation. 

Ontario reports 1,087 new cases, 13 new deaths

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 1,087 new COVID-19 cases and 13 new deaths on Sunday, one day before York Region is set to move out of lockdown and back into the province’s colour-coded pandemic response framework.

Most new cases were seen in the Greater Toronto Area, including 344 in Toronto, 156 in Peel Region and 122 in York Region, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said. 

Sunday is the fourth straight day in which daily case counts have topped 1,000.

As for new deaths, four are among residents in long-term care homes.

The additional deaths reported on Sunday bring the total number of COVID-19-related fatalities since the pandemic began to 6,861.

The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 sits at 660, a slight decrease from 699 seen on Saturday.

Of that number, 277 were being treated in ICU and the number of people on ventilators remained at 181, according to the health ministry. 

Ontario’s network of labs processed 48,200 test samples in the past 24 hours, which pushed the province’s positivity rate up to 2.7, Elliott said. 

As of Saturday, 556,533 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered.

York Region will be in the red-control zone as of 12:01 a.m. on Monday. 

Toronto, Peel and the North Bay Parry Sound will remain under the stay-at-home order until at least March 8. 

Excitement ‘palpable’ at Toronto vaccination clinic 

Meanwhile, as the province prepares to deal with an increased supply of vaccines, the vaccination clinics themselves are being set up. 

In an interview on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Emily Musing, vice president of quality and safety at the University Health Network vaccination clinic, said this is the first week in several weeks that the network has been able to provide first doses to many people eligible according to the province’s priority groups. 

Musing said her clinic is ready to vaccinate as many people in a day as possible. She said the clinic just needs the go-ahead from the province.

In an interview on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Emily Musing, vice president of quality and safety at the University Health Network vaccination clinic, said this is the first week in several weeks that the network has been able to provide first doses to many people eligible according to the province’s priority groups.  (Rosemary Barton Live)

“The level of excitement, delight is palpable,” she said of the people waiting in line at the clinic to receive their first or second dose of the vaccines. 

“People are seeing that, finally, a vaccine is available and they’re going to be able to be protected against COVID-19.” 

In a tweet, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie shared a photo of Paramount Fine Foods Centre field house completely transformed into one of the region’s five vaccination sites.

The site, “where up to 600 people an hour can be vaccinated at full capacity” is slated to open soon, Crombie said in the tweet Sunday. 

Phase 1 of the rollout is expected to include adults 80 years of age and older, staff, residents and caregivers in retirement homes and other congregate care settings, high priority health care workers, all Indigenous adults and adult recipients of chronic home care.

Phase 2 is set to begin as early as March. Under this phase, more vaccination sites will be added, including municipally run locations, hospital sites, mobile vaccination locations, pharmacies, clinics, community-run health centres and aboriginal health centres.

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Doctor who caught COVID-19 variant vows to ‘vigorously defend’ against charge she obstructed contact tracing

An Ontario physician and her husband — the first people in Canada known to have caught the coronavirus variant originally detected in the U.K. — are vowing to fight public health charges alleging they hindered contact tracing efforts. 

Dr. Martina Weir and her husband, Brian Weir, who works for Toronto’s paramedic service, both said in statements issued through their respective lawyers that they are not guilty, intend to plead not guilty and will “vigorously defend” themselves against the charges.

As CBC News previously reported, it was only by chance the lab that handled the couple’s COVID-19 tests identified the variant, according to Public Health Ontario. The province does not check each positive case of COVID-19 for the B117 strain.

The couple, from Durham Region east of Toronto, are each accused of three non-criminal counts under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act that were laid last week but only formalized Tuesday. The charges include:

  • 2 counts each of “failing to provide accurate information on all persons that [they] may have had contact with during their period of communicability for COVID-19.”
  • 1 count each of obstruction for “providing false information” to public health officials.    

In Martina Weir’s case, the obstruction count alleges she gave the false information to Durham Region’s associate medical officer of health during contact tracing in relation to the coronavirus strain first reported in the U.K.

Brian Weir’s obstruction count alleges he provided false information about whether he had contact with anyone who had travelled from the U.K.

CBC News has learned that a close family member who lives in Britain flew to Canada in mid-December to spend time over the holidays at the Weirs’ home.

Initially, in its Boxing Day announcement that a then-unnamed Durham couple had tested positive for the coronavirus variant first reported in the U.K., Ontario’s Health Ministry said they had “no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.” 

But a day later, the ministry issued a second statement alleging the couple had withheld information.

“Additional investigation and follow-up case and contact management has revealed that the couple had, indeed, been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K., which is new information not provided in earlier interviews,” the ministry said in a Dec. 27 statement.

Signage at Winnipeg’s airport warns international travellers they have to isolate for 14 days. The charges against an Ontario doctor and her husband allege they obstructed health officials by not providing accurate information related to contact with anyone who travelled to the U.K. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

No indication of workplace risk

Martina Weir works as a physician at two publicly run nursing homes and three hospitals in Durham Region. 

A spokesperson for the nursing homes said Weir wasn’t at work between Dec. 11 — well before she is believed to have tested positive for COVID-19 — and earlier this week. The spokesperson said there are no concerns about any risk to the homes’ residents but that Weir’s contract employment there is under review. 

A spokesperson for the hospitals, Sharon Navarro, said staff coming to work there “must attest that they have not travelled outside the country and or had contact with anyone travelling outside the country.”

She did not answer questions about whether Martina Weir had been to work in mid-December or whether any other staff or patients who may have tested positive for COVID-19 are being screened for the B117 variant.      

Neither Weir nor her lawyer would say whether she went to work at the hospitals during the period when she was potentially contagious. 

CBC News has no indication that Weir went to work and put anyone at risk at any of her workplaces.

WATCH | What do we know about the variant 1st identified in U.K.

The B1-17 coronavirus variant, first discovered in the U.K., is now in at least 40 countries, including Canada. It has 23 mutations, including one that attaches to healthy cells like a key going into a lock. 1:56

College of Physicians aware of charges

By law, Weir has to report the charges against her to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the provincial regulator for doctors. The college can then follow up with an investigation, and results are forwarded to a committee that decides whether to take no action, issue a caution, ask a doctor to undergo remedial training, or send the matter to a disciplinary hearing.  

The college said in a statement on Tuesday that, in general, “Countering public health best practices at any time — including during a pandemic — represents a risk to the public and is not acceptable behaviour.”

Toronto Paramedic Services, where Brian Weir works as a senior scheduler for the city’s emergency medical service, said it wasn’t aware of the charges against him and wouldn’t comment on something pertaining to its “staff as private citizens.” 

Brian Weir’s lawyer didn’t answer a question from CBC about whether Weir was at work during the period when he was potentially contagious.

CBC News has no indication Brian Weir went to work and put anyone at risk at his workplace.

The Weirs’ first appearance is set for March 10 in provincial offences court. The charges carry a maximum penalty of $ 5,000 each.  

Health workers have ‘elevated moral responsibility’

Martina Weir is believed to be the second doctor in Canada charged with a public-health offence in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. A doctor was charged in New Brunswick last year with failing to self-isolate for 14 days after he returned from a trip to Quebec to pick up his daughter. 

Bioethicist Kerry Bowman of the University of Toronto said that, in his view, health-care workers have “an elevated moral responsibility” because they are “in a position of trust with the public.” 

“We’re in this awful race right now, over these difficult winter months, with vaccines and the variant and everything else,” he said. “So it’s very … very serious.”

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman says health-care workers have ‘an elevated moral responsibility’ because they are ‘in a position of trust with the public.’ (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

According to Statistics Canada, 17 of the country’s biggest police forces responded to more than 16,800 potential violations of provincial laws and regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic between March and August. The data does not indicate how many of those cases resulted in fines or charges.

At the federal level, the Public Health Agency of Canada said earlier this month that between late March 2020 and Jan. 5, 2021, police have laid eight charges, given out 126 tickets and issued around 200 warnings for alleged violations of the Quarantine Act, which applies to people entering Canada from abroad.

Have a tip to share on this story? Contact Zach Dubinsky at 416-205-7553 or zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca, or send us a secure, anonymous message through SecureDrop.

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‘Worrying’ number of tourists from outside B.C. prompts Whistler doctor to call for travel ban

An emergency room doctor in Whistler is calling on the B.C. government to restrict travel from other provinces after seeing a “worrying” number of patients from Ontario and Quebec over the holidays.

Dr. Annie Gareau, an emergency physician at Whistler Health Care Centre, told Radio-Canada she’s concerned that an influx of visitors from outside the region could lead to uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, overwhelming the health-care system.

“We have a limited capacity. Our waiting room is small, so definitely at one point in time between Christmas and New Year’s it was unsettling the amount of patients that were in the clinic,” she said.

“I think we need to do like the Atlantic provinces did and I think we need to restrict inter-provincial travel until the numbers are going down.”

A public health advisory has been in place across B.C. since Nov. 19 cautioning against all non-essential travel. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said skiers should stick to their local slopes — for example, people who live in Metro Vancouver should limit themselves to the North Shore mountains.

However, an advisory does not have the legal power of a public health order.

Reliance on personal responsibility

Some ski resorts have cancelled reservations from non-local visitors in response to Henry’s advice, but a representative of Vail Resorts, which owns Whistler Blackcomb, told CBC last month that it is asking guests to take “personal responsibility” for following public health advice.

Little of that personal responsibility was apparent at the Whistler Health Care Centre over the holidays in December, said Gareau.

“I would say the majority of patients that came to the clinic between Christmas and New Year were not Whistlerites. The majority were from the Lower Mainland,” Gareau said.

“And then — surprising and worrying — was a lot of people from out of province, mainly Ontario and Quebec.”

Some residents of the Sea-to-Sky region are concerned about an influx of out-of-province visitors to Whistler. (Eric Berger/Whistler Blackcomb)

According to Tourism Whistler, people from outside of B.C. represent a bit more than 10 per cent of overnight visitors so far this season.

Both Ontario and Quebec are currently struggling to bring rampant COVID-19 transmission under control.

Ontario is implementing a stay-at-home order on Thursday and Premier Doug Ford has said “the system is on the brink of collapse.” Quebec now has an 8 p.m. curfew for residents to prevent spread of the disease.

‘We just need to stay in our provinces’

Gareau’s concerns are shared by Maude Cyr, a resident of nearby Pemberton, who said she was shocked to encounter a large group of tourists from Quebec during a recent day of skiing at Whistler.

Cyr said when she questioned them about the wisdom of travelling cross-country right now, they told her B.C. has fewer cases than Quebec and is therefore safer for them.

“It was hard to say anything,” she recalled.

Cyr worries about the stress these travellers are causing for people who work in the tourism industry and don’t want to bring COVID-19 home to their families and neighbours.

“I’d like to remind people from other places that small communities have small facilities and clinics, so if there is an expansion of cases here, we are in trouble,” she said.

“We just need to stay in our provinces and enjoy what we have in our own provinces.”

Her concerns come as another B.C. ski resort community has seen significant transmission of the novel coronavirus connected to staff housing and parties. As of Tuesday, a total of 162 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna, according to Interior Health.

Representatives of the B.C. health ministry have yet to respond to requests for comment on calls for stricter travel regulations.

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Manitoba’s top doctor says COVID-19 case numbers are too high for health care system to maintain

The latest:

Manitoba reported 16 additional deaths on Tuesday, a new daily high in a province that has been struggling with growing COVID-19 case numbers.

“This is a tragedy for all Manitobans,” Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday after reading a list with the ages and communities of those who died.

“We know that these are much more than numbers. These are people who are missed right now.”

Manitoba, which has seen a total of 328 deaths, reported 283 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday — the first time in more than a week that the new case number in the province dropped below 300.

Roussin said that while numbers aren’t “climbing rapidly,” they still aren’t where the province needs them to be.

“These numbers are still too high for us to sustain.”

The province’s health-care capacity is “being pushed” he said, noting that hospitals are reaching capacity and health-care workers are overwhelmed.

As of Tuesday, there were 338 people hospitalized, with 48 in intensive care.

What’s happening across Canada

As of 11:20 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 386,716, with 66,834 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 12,287.

British Columbia also reported 16 additional deaths on Tuesday, bringing the provincial death toll to 457. Health officials in the province reported 656 new cases of COVID-19 and said there were 336 people in hospital, including 76 in intensive care.

Faced with rising case numbers, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix reiterated their plea for people to follow rules put in place to try and slow the spread of the virus.

“Without exception, follow the provincial health officer’s orders in place,” the pair said in a statement. “Remember that events, which refer to anything that gathers people together — whether on a one-time, regular or irregular basis — are not allowed for now.”

WATCH | COVID-19 returns to B.C. nursing homes, death toll rises:

British Columbia has seen more COVID-19 deaths over the past two weeks than the preceding two months because the virus has found its way back into nursing homes. And with long-term care workers exhausted and families frustrated, it’s not clear what can be done. 1:54

In Alberta, health officials announced 10 additional deaths and 1,307 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Hospitalizations stood at 479, with 97 people in intensive care. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said a decision around what sort of restrictions will be in place over the holidays is expected later in the month.

“However, in the past we have seen holiday gatherings lead to increases in cases and outbreaks as one case spreads to many,” Hinshaw said, pointing to the ongoing impact of Thanksgiving gatherings. 

“This is not going to be the year for in-person office parties,” she said. “This is not going to be the year for open houses, or large dinners with friends and extended family.”

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 181 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 51.

The province’s minister of corrections said she doesn’t know how COVID-19 arrived in the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, which is dealing with a growing outbreak that has led to well over 100 cases among inmates, as well as several infections among staff.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 1,723 new cases of COVID-19, with 500 cases in Peel Region and 410 in Toronto. Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a tweet that 44,200 tests had been completed.

Health officials also reported 35 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 3,698.

Hospitalizations increased to 656, with 183 people in intensive care units, according to a provincial dashboard.

Health officials in Quebec on Wednesday reported 1,514 new cases of COVID-19 and 43 additional deaths.

Hospitalizations increased to 740, with 99 patients being treated in intensive care units.

Premier François Legault warned Tuesday that the province’s plan to allow gatherings for four days around Christmas is at risk as the number of hospitalizations in the province reached their highest level since June.

“We’re not going in the right direction,” Legault said at a press conference in Quebec City. “If hospitalizations continue to increase, it will be difficult to take that risk.”

WATCH | What doctors are learning about COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’:

Researchers are learning more about why some people who get a mild case COVID-19 end up experiencing other symptoms for months. Doctors say these so-called known as long-haulers often have symptoms that resemble a common blood circulation disorder known as POTS. 4:10

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, New Brunswick reported seven cases and Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case. There were no new cases in Prince Edward Island. 

There were 11 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday in Nunavut, which is at the end of a two-week lockdown period that covered the entire territory. All of the new cases were reported in Arviat, where tight public health restrictions are still in effect.

The Northwest Territories and Yukon had no new cases on Tuesday.

What’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9:55 a.m. ET

WATCH | COVID-19 vaccine rollout — What the experts say:

As of early Wednesday morning, there were nearly 64 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide with more than 41.1 million of those listed as recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.4 million.

In Europe, British regulators insisted that “no corners have been cut” during the assessment of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which was cleared for emergency use on Wednesday.

In a briefing after the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency became the first regulator worldwide to approve the vaccine, its chair, Dr. June Raine, said the public can be “absolutely confident” that its standards are equivalent to those anywhere around the world.

Regulators also revealed the order by which the vaccine will be rolled out across the country over the coming weeks and months, beginning next week. The U.K. has ordered around 40 million doses of the vaccine, which can potentially immunize 20 million people as two doses are required.

Residents in nursing homes and their care givers will be offered the vaccine first, followed by those 80 and over and front-line health- and social- care workers. From there, the priority plan largely follows age groups.

According to Munir Pirmohamed, chair of a medicines panel, immunity begins seven days after the second dose.

British lawmakers approved new coronavirus restrictions in England that take effect Wednesday but many Conservative lawmakers are unhappy about the economic consequences.

Russia and Germany both reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths, with 580 deaths reported in Russia and 487 in Germany.

With more than 2.3 million infections, Russia has the fourth-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world behind the United States, India and Brazil. 

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian authorities on Wednesday to begin mass voluntary vaccinations against COVID-19 next week as Russia recorded 589 new daily deaths from the coronavirus. Russia will have produced two million vaccine doses within the next few days, Putin said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings large and small as around half a million students prepared for a crucial national college exam.

Vice Education Minister Park Baeg-beom says the 490,000 applicants so far include 35 virus carriers who will take exams Thursday at hospitals or treatment shelters. Education authorities have also prepared separate venues for some 400 applicants currently under self-quarantine.

Applicants will be required to wear masks and maintain distance from each other. They will be screened for fever and take exams separately if they have symptoms.

Workers clean plastic sheeting placed on a desk in a classroom on Tuesday to prevent the spread of COVID-19, ahead of the college scholastic ability test at a YoungSang high school on Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Pakistan reported 75 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, one of the highest fatalities from coronavirus in recent months, prompting government to launch a week-long campaign beginning Saturday to urge people to wear masks.

The government, however, has ruled out re-imposing a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, which has killed 8,166 people and infected 403,311 in Pakistan.

Pakistan flattened the curve in August but currently it is facing a lethal new surge of infections.

In the Americas, U.S. health officials are pleading with Americans to follow their recommendations.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis joined the nation’s top infectious disease expert Tuesday and urged people to wear masks and physically distance to help prevent stay-at-home orders and overwhelmed hospitals as cases of the coronavirus surge during the holidays.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned during a virtual news conference that Colorado is not alone in seeing a spike in cases and pleaded with people not to travel or gather in large groups.

“If you look across the United States, we are really in a public health crisis right now because we are having a surge the likes of which is worse than the surges that we all saw in the late winter, early spring,” Fauci said.

He noted that “we are likely going to see a surge upon a surge” of cases, based on the number of people who travelled and gathered for Thanksgiving and on those who are expected to shop and attend holiday parties before celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in large groups.

Colorado has been hit with a substantial spike in COVID-19 cases, with one in 41 residents believed to be contagious.

Indigenous people, health workers and those aged 75 years and older will be at the front of the line to be vaccinated, Brazil’s Health Ministry said as it unveiled a four-stage preliminary plan for national immunization.

In Mexico, the government was expected to sign a contract on Wednesday with pharmaceutical company Pfizer for the delivery of its vaccine.

A nurse takes a blood sample from a person to perform a COVID-19 serological test in Escobedo, state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico on Tuesday. (Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images)

In Africa, South Africa’s reported COVID-19 case numbers stood at more than 792,000 on Wednesday. The country, which has seen more reported cases than any other nation in Africa, has seen more than 21,000 deaths.

Iran, the hardest-hit nation in the Middle East, was approaching 990,000 cases of COVID-19 and 49,000 deaths.

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Argentine police search home of Maradona’s doctor while probing soccer star’s death

Argentine police searched the home and office of Diego Maradona’s personal doctor on Sunday as part of investigations into the death of the 60-year-old soccer star, which caused a wave of grief across the country.

Reporters saw several police officers stationed at the door of the offices of neurologist Dr. Leopoldo Luque in Buenos Aires’ Belgrano neighborhood.

Court investigators have been taking declarations from Maradona’s relatives, according to a statement from the San Isidro prosecutor’s office, which is overseeing a probe into the medical attention Maradona received prior to his death on Wednesday.

It said investigators were trying to secure Maradona’s medical records.

Maradona was buried Thursday in a private ceremony attended by only two dozen people following a vigil at the presidential palace where tens of thousands of weeping fans lined up to filed past his coffin.

Maradona died of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he had been recovering from a brain operation Nov. 3. He had suffered from a long series of medical issues, some related to addiction to drugs and alcohol.

WATCH | Maradona’s famed ‘Hand of God’ goal:

Legendary soccer player Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60. John Molinaro joins CBC Sports to discuss his legacy on and off the field. 3:44

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