The doctor accused of being patient zero in a northern New Brunswick COVID-19 outbreak after he travelled to neighbouring Quebec in May and didn’t self-isolate upon his return has been notified he won’t face criminal charges, according to his lawyer.
Dr. Jean Robert Ngola’s defence team is now “seeking answers as to why proper procedures were not followed, why [he] was singled out and why privacy laws were breached,” said a statement issued by EME Professional Corporation, the Toronto-based law firm representing him.
Ngola, who is from Congo but has had a practice in Campbellton for about seven years, is also still seeking an apology from New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs for what his lawyer calls “unacceptable and unfounded public accusations” and for the “extreme racism and threats of violence that he and his family have had to endure.”
If Higgs refuses to apologize, Ngola’s legal team will seriously consider taking the matter to court, his lawyer, Joel Etienne, said.
“We firmly believe the premier should publicly apologize for the condemnation he hurled against Dr. Ngola without taking, in our opinion, satisfactory steps to learn the truth in the matter,” Etienne said in the statement.
The absence of criminal charges does not preclude the possibility of charges being laid under the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Act.
A spokesperson for the New Brunswick RCMP said the investigation is ongoing.
During a news conference late Wednesday afternoon, Higgs told reporters he stands by the comments he made on May 27.
Higgs never publicly named Ngola but blamed a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Campbellton region on an “irresponsible” medical professional who travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, “was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick” and didn’t self-isolate.
“My position hasn’t changed,” Higgs said Wednesday. “The comments I made previously, I stand behind those comments. I don’t 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 the Campbellton Regional Hospital without self-isolating for 14 days.
He and his daughter were both tested for COVID-19 on May 25 after he was informed one of his patients had tested positive for the respiratory disease. Although neither of them were exhibiting symptoms, their results came back positive.
A total of 41 people in the Campbellton region became infected with COVID-19 during the outbreak that began May 21, and two of them, who were in their 80s, died. As of Wednesday, there is only one active case remaining in the province.
Etienne said his client was questioned by the RCMP to determine whether he should be charged with negligence causing death or bodily harm.
But Etienne said he received confirmation a few days ago that no criminal charges will be laid.
Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, spokesperson for the New Brunswick RCMP, said she is not aware if the RCMP had a conversation with any lawyer.
“However, we would not discuss any private conversations we have had anyway,” she said in an emailed 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 Vitalite Health Network regarding an individual who “may have violated the mandatory order under the current Emergency Measures Act by travelling outside of N.B., and not following the guidelines of self-isolating upon their return,” said Rogers-Marsh.
RCMP are continuing to investigate to “determine if a violation has occurred.”
Rogers-Marsh declined to discuss the details of the investigation.
There is no timeline on how long the investigation will take, she said.
Ngola, who is also known as Ngola Monzinga and as Jean Robert Ngola Monzinga, declined to comment Wednesday, directing media inquiries to his lawyer.
He remains suspended, said Vitalite spokesperson Thomas Lizotte, identifying Ngola only as “the individual.”
“Unfortunately, we cannot add any more comments as this is a confidential file in human resources’ hands,” he said.
Ngola’s lawyer, who wrote a letter to the premier last month saying he had proof his client was not patient zero and seeking a public apology, has written him another letter.
“For us, it is a truth that he has always been innocent and that is why we ask the premier of the province once again to apologize,” Etienne said.
The defence team contends the province should have, “at a minimum,” initiated an investigation “before immediately blaming Dr. Ngola.”
The investigation, it contends, should have included:
- Performing out-of-province contact tracing, in consultation with pandemic medical experts.
- Investigating and tracing a “massive breach of privacy” that allegedly originated from within the government and resulted in the “unlawful outing and shaming” of Ngola.
Private investigators for Ngola concluded last month that he “could not have been the first patient” and that his trip to Quebec was not the source, according to his lawyer.
During Ngola’s overnight round trip, he interacted with only a few people — all of whom subsequently tested negative for COVID-19, said Etienne.
Based on the coronavirus incubation period of up to two weeks, Etienne said, the investigator concluded Ngola was infected in New Brunswick by either a patient or a colleague and did not carry the virus over the border.
The premier said at the time he’s bound by privacy rules and limited in what he could say.
“But I am quite comfortable in the position that I’ve taken, how I’ve spoken about it and the reality of how this situation developed,” he said.
“And if the facts are all on the table, I am sure that others will be clear as well.”