Charges against a New Brunswick doctor accused of being responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak have been dropped.
Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola is pleading with the premier to apologize.
Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola's defense team is requesting a "unqualified apology" from New Brunswick's premier following the Crown's decision to drop charges against the family physician accused of being the source of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Ngola, 51, was designated "patient zero" in May 2020 following a brief out-of-province trip in which he drove overnight to Montreal to pick up his four-year-old daughter. He was charged with violating the provincial Emergency Measures Act last August for failing to quarantine upon his return.
Ngola would have faced a fine ranging from $240 to $10,200 if convicted.
Prosecutor Sebastian Michaud stated in court that the Crown was withdrawing its charge but did not provide an explanation.
With the legal matter resolved, Ngola's legal team asserts that Premier Blaine Higgs can no longer hide behind "pending provincial court matters" and must apologize for his role in the ordeal that resulted in racist threats, a suspension, and a charge against the doctor.
"This is the third time we have publicly pleaded with you as a man claiming to be a Christian to apologize to Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola Monzinga," lawyers Joel Etienne and Christian Michaud wrote in a letter to the premier.
Additionally, the letter states that "no factual or scientific basis existed to justify the massive deployment of over 21 RCMP criminal investigators against Dr. Ngola."
Within hours, blame was assigned.
Ngola's troubles began more than a year ago, on May 27, 2020, with a positive COVID-19 test result. An hour later, his name was leaked as "patient zero" on a Campbellton Facebook group. At a news conference later that afternoon, Higgs blamed a "irresponsible medical professional" for a cluster of cases and the virus's resurgence in the province.
The premier did not mention Ngola by name, but Ngola was suspended without pay from his job at Vitalité Health Network two hours after Higgs' remarks. Along with being a family physician, Ngola worked in the Campbellton Regional Hospital's emergency room.
A day later, Higgs announced that the RCMP had taken over the investigation into Ngola, despite the fact that police had not yet received an official complaint. The public health officer for the region, who was conducting her own contact tracing investigation, refused to provide information to the police, citing patient confidentiality.
Rather than that, Dr. Mariane Pâquet urged police to protect Ngola, who has been the target of increasing racist attacks, including threats of "lynching."
'Treated as if he were a criminal'
When contacted at his clinic in Louisville, Que., where he is now a family physician, Ngola demands an apology from the premier for being treated "like a criminal" for contracting the virus.
"It's an injustice," said Ngola, who claims he was "harassed" by police who pursued him despite the fact that he had committed no crime.
Ngola asserts that the experience harmed his confidence. Even though he has relocated to another province to practice medicine, Ngola says he is frequently approached by strangers who inquire about his legal troubles. He is constantly under observation by patients and fears that if he treats them too quickly, they will question the medical care he is providing.
In September, a CBC Fifth Estate investigation determined that Ngola could not have been patient zero for a variety of reasons. To begin, approximately 10% of hospital staff and 20% of patients at the Campbellton Regional Hospital where he worked regularly crossed the river into Quebec — due to their residence there. Second, contact tracing was unlikely to be completed in the three hours between Ngola receiving his positive test and the premier's news conference.
"The premier was quick to believe the negative," Ngola stated. "He should be a decent human being and admit his error."
Ngola admitted to CBC that he returned to work following his trip and violated the hospital's COVID-19 protocols, which required anyone traveling outside of New Brunswick — with the exception of commuters from Quebec or Maine — to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.
Ngola stated that there was considerable confusion surrounding COVID-19 measures at the time, and that other physicians with whom he worked had not self-isolated after traveling out of province. He told CBC News that while traveling, he took precautions.
Lawyers consider filing a civil lawsuit
The RCMP closed its criminal investigation in August 2020 but chose to pursue a provincial charge that carries a potential fine of up to $10,000.
Higgs previously stated that he was unaware of the doctor's identity when he made his remarks.
"I was unaware of the individual until he appeared on social media last summer," Higgs explained. "My concern throughout this pandemic has been that we must be vigilant. We place a high premium on medical professionals. It was discouraging because it resulted in two fatalities."
Ngola's lawyers argue in their statement that the premier should have been aware of the incendiary nature of his remarks and that they were motivated by an underlying racism against people of color.
"There is a long history of using the dog whistle against racialized citizens and labeling them as 'bringers of diseases' in North America, and this must end," lawyer Christian Michaud said in a statement.
Michaud and Etienne set a seven-day deadline for Higgs to apologize and reach "a respectful and appropriate resolution" in their letter to the premier.
If not, they write, Ngola has authorized them to "proceed with matters" by filing a civil suit.