The doctor accused of being a zero patient in a COVID-19 outbreak in northern New Brunswick after traveling to neighboring Quebec in May and not isolating himself on his return was notified that he will not face criminal charges, his lawyer said.
The defense team of Dr. Jean Robert Ngola is now "seeking answers as to why the proper procedures were not followed, why [he] was highlighted and why privacy laws were violated, "said a statement issued by EME Professional Corporation, the Toronto-based law firm that represents him.
Ngola, who is from Congo, but has had a practice in Campbellton, NB, for about seven years, also still apologizes to New Brunswick Prime Minister Blaine Higgs for what his lawyer calls "unacceptable public accusations and unfounded "and by" extremes ". racism and threats of violence that he and his family had to endure ".
If Higgs refuses to apologize, Ngola's legal team will seriously consider taking the case to court, said his lawyer, Joël Etienne.
"We firmly believe that the Prime Minister should publicly apologize for the conviction he has launched against Ngola without taking, in our opinion, satisfactory steps to discover the truth in the matter," said Etienne in the statement.
The absence of criminal charges does not exclude the possibility of charges being made under the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Act.
An RCMP spokesman for New Brunswick said the investigation was ongoing.
During a news conference late Wednesday afternoon, Higgs told reporters he supports the comments he made on May 27.
Higgs never publicly named Ngola, but blamed a set of COVID-19 cases in the Campbellton region and a resurgence of coronavirus in the province in a "irresponsible" medical professional who traveled to Quebec for personal reasons ", were not informed of the reasons for the trip when returning to New Brunswick" and did not isolate themselves.
"If you ignore the rules, you put your family, friends and colleagues in New Brunswickers at risk," Higgs said. "Today's case is evidence of that."
"My position has not changed," said Higgs on Wednesday. "The comments I made earlier, I support those comments. I do not intend to withdraw them."
Ngola drove to Quebec the week of May 10 to retrieve his four-year-old daughter because her mother had to travel to Africa for a funeral. He immediately returned to work at Campbellton Regional Hospital without being isolated for 14 days.
He and his daughter were tested for COVID-19 on May 25, after he was informed that one of his patients had tested positive for respiratory disease. Although none of them had symptoms, their results were positive.
A total of 41 people in the Campbellton region were infected with COVID-19 during the outbreak that started on May 21, and two of them, aged 80, died. On Wednesday, there only one active case remains in the province and is linked to this outbreak.
Etienne said his client was asked by the RCMP to determine whether he should be charged with negligence, causing death or personal injury.
But the lawyer said he received confirmation a few days ago that no criminal charges will be made.
No investigation schedule
Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, spokesman for the RCMP in New Brunswick, said she did not know whether the RCMP had a conversation with a lawyer.
"However, we would not discuss any private conversations that we had anyway," she said in an e-mailed statement.
"The investigation is still ongoing, that has not changed. I cannot speculate on the status of any charges, as we are still investigating."
On May 30, the New Brunswick RCMP received a complaint from the provincial government and the Vitalité Health Network about an individual who "may have violated the mandatory order under the current Emergency Measures Act traveling outside the NB and not following the self – isolated guidelines upon return, "said Rogers-Marsh.
The RCMP continues to investigate to "determine whether a breach has occurred".
Rogers-Marsh declined to discuss the details of the investigation.
There is no timetable for how long the investigation will take, she said.
Doctor still suspended
Ngola, who is also known as Ngola Monzinga and Jean Robert Ngola Monzinga, declined to comment on Wednesday, directing media inquiries to his lawyer.
He remains suspended, said Thomas Lizotte, a spokesman for Vitalité, identifying Ngola only as "the individual".
"Unfortunately, we cannot add any further comments, as this is a confidential file in the hands of human resources," he said.
Ngola was suspended on May 28, the day after provincial officials announced his case without naming him.
He has about 2,000 patients and also works in the emergency department at Campbellton Regional Hospital. He cannot practice anywhere in the province while suspended.
Ngola's lawyer, who wrote a letter to the premier last month saying that he had evidence that his client was not a zero patient and seeking a public apology, he wrote another letter to him.
"For us, it is true that he has always been innocent and that is why we apologize again to the provincial prime minister," said Etienne.
The defense team says the province should "at the very least" initiate an investigation "before immediately blaming Dr. Ngola".
The investigation, he said, should have included:
- Conducting contact tracking outside the province, in consultation with pandemic medical specialists.
- Investigating and tracking a "massive privacy breach" that allegedly originated within the government within an hour after the Ngola test was positive for COVID-19 and resulted in his "illegal walk and shame", complete with his photograph circulating on social media.
Defense hired its own investigators
Private investigators from Ngola concluded last month that "he could not have been the first patient" and that his trip to Quebec was not the source, his lawyer said.
During the round trip from Ngola, he interacted with only a few people – all of whom were later tested negative for COVID-19, said Etienne.
Based on the coronavirus incubation period of up to two weeks, said Etienne, the investigator concluded that Ngola was infected in New Brunswick by a patient or colleague and did not carry the virus across the border.
The prime minister said at the time that he is bound by the privacy rules and limited in what he could say.
"But I am very comfortable with the position I took, how I spoke about it and the reality of how this situation developed," he said.
"And if all the facts are on the table, I'm sure others will be clear as well."
Asked on Wednesday what the government is doing to investigate allegations of privacy violations, Higgs replied, "Well, I understand that that was the charge.
"I don't think I certainly did that. I was concerned about the protocols that are being followed. I think Vitalité [has] did a lot of research in that regard. We had lessons learned from that experience at Campbellton ".
Rules for healthcare professionals
Public health officials did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
At the time of Ngola's trip, health professionals who live and work in New Brunswick were forced to isolate themselves for 14 days after returning from trips outside the province, officials said.
There were exceptions, however. Doctors and nurses who work in New Brunswick, but live across the border and travel regularly, need not be isolated, for example.
Doctors from outside the province who fill out temporarily, known as locums, there had been no need Vitalité to completely isolate. But the province's pandemic task force was concerned about the number of locums that entered and issued a directive on May 19, requiring regional health authorities to seek isolation exemptions for their locums through WorkSafeNB.
Prior to the Campbellton outbreak, New Brunswick had managed to smooth out the COVID-19 curve, with more than two weeks without new cases.