N.B. doctor accused of breaking COVID-19 rules sues province, RCMP and Facebook

A doctor who says he faced a barrage of hate and racism after being accused of breaking COVID-19 rules in New Brunswick in 2020 is suing the provincial government, the RCMP and Facebook's owner, Meta.

"It's a battle for rights, for human dignity and against racism," Dr. Jean Robert Ngola told reporters Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed earlier in the day in the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench.

"We expect the battle to be a needless and protracted long fight but we are ready for it," Ngola's lawyer Joel Etienne said.

Ngola, a family doctor who was working in the northern New Brunswick city of Campbellton, was accused of violating the province's Emergency Measures Act, but the Crown later withdrew the charge after concluding there was no chance of conviction.

On May 27, 2020, in the face of a growing outbreak in the Campbellton area, Premier Blaine Higgs referred to an "irresponsible" health-care worker and said the matter was being handled by the RCMP. The outbreak eventually affected 40 people and resulted in two deaths.

News got out that Ngola was the suspect in the RCMP's investigation after his positive COVID-19 status was leaked on social media.

Before he tested positive, Ngola had driven to Montreal to pick up his daughter, because her mother was travelling to Africa to attend a funeral. He did not self-isolate for two weeks when he returned, as provincial health guidelines directed, but Ngola later said that was consistent with the practice of other physicians at his hospital.

Ngola, who is now based in Louiseville, Que., has sought an apology from Higgs, but the premier has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong.

The statement of claim says the premier should have known his actions would be instrumental in endangering Ngola's life and creating fear for the safety of Ngola and his child.

"Dr. Ngola was barraged with death threats (some of which called for his lynching) and racist insults," the claim states.

No one for the provincial government would comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

"We don't comment on cases or potential cases before the courts," Geoffrey Downey, a spokesman for Justice and Public Safety, said in an email.

Ngola's legal team says the RCMP assigned 21 members to investigate the allegations against the doctor. "On that fateful day, Jean Robert became a citizen of a police state," Etienne told reporters.

"The singling out, the shaming, the racism, the 21 police investigators in the middle of a pandemic turning every rock, turning every stone, the threat of losing his daughter to child services, the inability to stay in his home. How was that a democracy for Jean Robert Ngola? Could any one of us endure what this man has gone through?"

The suit accuses Facebook of allowing the dissemination of hateful, racist statements and wilfully promoting the posts against Ngola by refusing to remove them. It says Facebook's safety budget allocated to monitor harmful contents outside the United States "is grossly disproportionate, especially as it applies to Dr. Ngola."

The court document does not specify the amount of damages being sought but says it should be enough to hold those responsible accountable and to discourage similar wrongdoing in the future.

"Dr. Ngola was a clear victim of racial profiling caused and spurned on by state action and Facebook/social media," the claim states. It adds that the court should award punitive damages and that restorative justice is also a necessary remedy.

Officials with the RCMP and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ngola calls what happened to him "a serious injustice" and "dehumanizing."

"I dare believe, in the end, that nothing similar could ever happen again to a citizen, to suffer such degrading, inhuman treatment in our big, beautiful country of Canada," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2022.