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New Brunswick doctor’s story calls attention to COVID-related racism

Dr. Jean Robert Ngola’s account of enduring racist harassment since social media outed him as the doctor at the centre of the Campbellton COVID-19 outbreak has drawn some swift reaction from outside the province. 

Dr. Michael Schull was one of the first to call it out on Twitter as “more COVID19-related racism in Canada.”

“I think it’s especially abhorrent in the times we’re living in now,” said Schull, an emergency department physician at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and CEO of ICES, a non-profit health research agency.

“We’ve seen not just what’s going on in the U.S. — these horrific eruptions of violence and the protests that relate to the murder of George Floyd, but also we’ve seen COVID-related racism in Canada.

Dr. Michael Schull, CEO of ICES, a non-profit health research agency in Toronto and emergency department physician at Sunnybrook Hospital, says people have to call out racism when they see it. (Submitted/Michael Schull)

“This is just another example of that and I think we have to call it out when we see it. Now, more than ever.” 

Chinese-Canadians tracking incidents of hate

Kennes Lin said fear of COVID-19 has unleashed historical and latent racism all across Canada.

She is co-chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, one of the organizations behind the recently launched website “Fight Covid Racism,” which is now actively tracking incidents of hate. 

Lin said Chinese-Canadians, and those mistaken for being Chinese, are being shunned, spat on, verbally abused, physically attacked and denied services. She says the abuse is happening in public spaces as well as online. 

Kennes Lin, co-chair of Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, said Chinese-Canadians, and those mistaken for being Chinese, are being shunned, spat on, verbally abused, physically attacked and denied services in all kinds of public places as well as online. (Submitted/Kennes Lin )

She said Chinese-Canadians were stigmatized before in 2003 in the wake of SARS and it started happening again when reports of an unknown disease started emerging from Wuhan, China. 

U.S. President Donald Trump isn’t helping, she said. His repeated reference to “the Chinese virus” has given permission to others to express out loud what they may have been reluctant to reveal openly. 

And she’s convinced Dr. Ngola is also caught up in this wave of xenophobia.

“When a white individual makes a mistake, the public comes up with reasons to sympathize and empathize with their humanity,” said Lin. 

“But when a racialized person makes a mistake … they’re reduced from everything else that they are to just the act of wrongdoing that they have done.”

Former patient says race has nothing to do with her disappointment

Jess Day, of Listiguj First Nation in Quebec, was a patient of Dr. Ngola’s for about seven years. 

She says he betrayed his patients’ trust by failing to self-isolate after travelling to Quebec, which is now reporting more than 29,000 active cases of COVID-19.

Jess Day, patient of Campbellton doctor linked to the COVID-19 outbreak in the region, says racism has nothing to do with her feelings of betrayal by Dr. Jean Robert Ngola. (Submitted/Jess Day)

Instead, he continued to see patients at the Campbellton Regional Hospital.

Ngola said he had to go to Quebec to collect his four-year-old daughter while her mother travelled to an undisclosed location in Africa to attend a funeral.

His decision to go back to seeing patients may have been an error in judg​​ment, he said

Day said he most definitely did make a mistake and for her, this has nothing to do with his race or country of origin.

Premier Blaine Higgs and Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, have previously linked the outbreak to a medical professional who travelled to Quebec and didn’t self-isolate, but it has yet to be explained how the individual is solely responsible for the new cluster of cases.

‘You can’t have colour in this at all’

Ralph Thomas, recipient of the 2012 New Brunswick Human Rights Award in recognition of decades of work as a community activist and promoter of black history, said Ngola deserves to be judged without prejudice. 

He said he knows racism has entered into it, as it always does. 

“Yeah, that’s an automatic thing,” said Thomas. 

Ralph Thomas says Dr. Jean Robert Ngola deserves to be judged without prejudice. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

But he also thinks the doctor didn’t follow the rules and that his actions should be evaluated against the standards of his profession. The process should be colourblind, he said. 

“Get rid of that [racist] garbage,” said Thomas.

“This gentleman is a professional person and I guess he got his priorities mixed up and he made a bad decision.

“We all make bad decisions, and whether we’re a doctor or the plain guy on the street, we have to pay the penalty. So if there’s a penalty, he should pay it.

“You can’t have colour in this at all.”

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