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Alberta's top doc says she feels betrayed by media leak, launches investigation

EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says a member of her inner circle committed a “personal betrayal” and fractured the working relationship of her COVID-19 team by leaking private conversations to the media. Dr.
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Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says she is profoundly disappointed over a leak of confidential information from meetings she and her colleagues held to discuss how to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says a member of her inner circle committed a “personal betrayal” and fractured the working relationship of her COVID-19 team by leaking private conversations to the media.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says public officials took an oath not to publicize private discussions and that there will be an investigation.

“I am profoundly disappointed,” Hinshaw told reporters Thursday.

“This is a personal betrayal and a betrayal of the trust that our hard-working team has placed in each other.

“These meetings should be a safe space where public servants have candid and ongoing conversations and debates. This safety and trust are now broken.”

Hinshaw said she doesn’t know who did the leaking but that they will try to find out.

“There will be an investigation to determine who has done this because this has serious repercussions and is a violation of the oath that all of us have taken,” she said.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro, with Hinshaw at the news conference, said he was concerned about the story because “it violated Dr. Hinshaw’s confidence and it embarrassed her."

He said Hinshaw has his complete confidence, adding: “This is a critical juncture for COVID here in Alberta.”

Hinshaw was referring to a CBC story published earlier in the day citing anonymous sources and audio recordings of meetings between Hinshaw and 40 or so colleagues as they developed recommendations to fight the pandemic.

The story suggests Shandro’s office has taken a direct interest in enforcement of public health orders in order to limit tickets to violators.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley quoted from the CBC story in the house in questions directed at Premier Jason Kenney.

“(Hinshaw) is on tape, (saying) ‘They don’t want us to enforce anything. They just want us to educate. No enforcement,’” said Notley.

She asked Kenney: “Why would you pass public health orders and then direct they not be enforced? Don’t you realize that in doing this you are risking the lives and livelihoods of Albertans?”

Kenney replied, “No such directive has been made. That is categorically false.”

Shandro, asked later by reporters if his ministry is intervening in COVID enforcement, replied, “Nothing goes through our office. That’s a totally insane question.”

Alberta Health Services says there have been 41,368 complaints and action requests tied to COVID-19. There have been 102 COVID-19-related orders, with 84 since rescinded.

Earlier this week, Kenney said the government is looking to expand the number of enforcement officers who can hand out tickets for violations. 

The CBC story also references discussions in which Hinshaw and Kenney’s government have been at odds on some aspects of policy, including serology and asymptomatic testing. 

Hinshaw said the story reflects a distorted slice of the long-running and wide-ranging discussions that featured, at times, healthy disagreements.

Hinshaw has found herself at the centre of a political firestorm in the legislature over the best way for Alberta to combat its surging infection rate.

The province, once a national leader in COVID-19 management, has some of the highest daily case counts in Canada. There have been more than 1,000 new cases a day for a week.

On Thursday, Hinshaw announced 1,077 new cases with 383 people in hospital, 84 of them in intensive care. There were 10 more deaths for a total of 510.

The NDP, along with some doctors and infectious disease specialists, have been calling for a short, sharp and sweeping shutdown to reverse the numbers and prevent intensive care beds from being overrun.

Kenney instead brought in new measures this week, which include reduced capacity for most businesses while keeping them open. 

Kenney has said his goal is to save lives but at the same time keep critical revenue flowing for workers, business owners and their families.

The New Democrats say the orders, and the absence of a provincial mask mandate, smack of arbitrary political decision-making that will ultimately imperil both public health and the economy.

They have asked Kenney to show Albertans all the options Hinshaw has proposed to let members of the public judge for themselves.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press