Public Health Officers Walk Fine Line Between Public and Politicians, Scholars Say

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Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw leaves after updating media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Legal experts say there’s a fine line between a public health officer’s duty to the people they serve and their duty to the politicians who appoint them.

The issue, bubbling in Alberta for months, broke into a boil as the CBC obtained recordings that is says show tensions between the province’s chief medical officer and government politicians.

 

Amir Attaran, who teaches in both the University of Ottawa’s law and public health faculties, says such officers have both the power and responsibility to override politics if they feel that serves public health.

He points to an Ontario officer who closed bunkhouses for migrant farm workers over COVID-19 concerns despite the objections of local farmers — a decision later upheld in the courts.

Lorian Hardcastle, a University of Calgary law professor who also teaches in the medical faculty, says Alberta’s United Conservative government has deliberately muddied the waters between science and politics.

She says the government has used its Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. ena Hinshaw to deliver advice as if it were totally science-based, when it’s not.

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

The Canadian Press

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