Doctor accused in New Brunswick COVID-19 outbreak sues province, RCMP, Facebook
The doctor who was accused in 2020 of breaking New Brunswick’s COVID-19 rules by failing to isolate, and of being the source of a deadly outbreak, is suing the province, the RCMP and Facebook’s parent company.
Lawyers for Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola, 52, said Thursday they have filed their claim with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Moncton — seven months after they announced their intention.
The document alleges, among other things, “institutional anti-Black systemic racism,” abuse of power, negligence, defamation, malicious prosecution and a breach of the doctor’s charter rights.
“This is a battle for rights, human dignity and against racism,” Ngola told reporters in French during an online news conference from Louiseville, Que., where he now practises.
Joel Etienne, one of his lawyers, who is based in Toronto, said they expect the legal battle to be “needless and protracted.”
“But we are ready for it,” he said.
Ngola was labelled by some as “patient zero” after he tested positive for COVID-19. In early May 2020 he drove across the border to Montreal to pick up his four-year-old daughter, because her mother had to travel to Africa for a funeral. He also made a stop in Trois-Rivières, he later confirmed.
He did not isolate upon his return, later claiming the province’s rules were unclear.
During a May 27 news conference, Premier Blaine Higgs said a medical professional in their 50s had travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, “was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick and they did not self-isolate as a result.”
Higgs never referred to Ngola by name, but blamed what was then a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Campbellton region and a resurgence of the coronavirus in the province on the “irresponsible individual” who returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and treated patients for two weeks.
The outbreak claimed two lives, infected dozens and forced that part of New Brunswick back into a more restrictive “orange” phase of recovery.
Ngola’s lawyers argue in the 38-page statement of claim that Higgs “knew or ought to have known” that the public could identify Ngola based on those details and “information disseminated on social media.”
Ngola, who is from Congo, faced racist threats, was suspended by the Vitalité Health Network, was investigated by the RCMP and charged with breaching the province’s Emergency Measures Act. The charge was later dropped.
The situation became so “toxic,” Ngola had to leave New Brunswick, Etienne said Thursday.
“It created what had never been seen in the province in modern times — the banishment of a citizen that was unjustified, illegal, unlawful and based on no legal grounds whatsoever.”
They did not take any questions.
Asked, via email, why filing the lawsuit was delayed Etienne said only, “discussions with unnamed parties.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Higgs did not respond to a request for comment. He is not named as a defendant.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the New Brunswick RCMP directed inquiries to the national headquarters in Ottawa, which withheld comment.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
Ngola is seeking unspecified compensation and punitive damages. He is also seeking restorative justice.
Moncef Lakouas, president of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, also attended the news conference to voice his support.
Lakouas described Ngola’s case as a “success story that turned into a nightmare.”
“What he went through for the past two years is something that I don’t wish anyone, any human being to go through … immigrant or not,” he said.
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