A Qualicum Beach resident said she was shocked when a local licensed health practitioner tried to dissuade her from wearing a mask during an appointment.
The patient also alleges that the healthcare practitioner was not adhering to any COVID-19 protocols such as mask wearing, screening patients, requiring hand sanitation or posting signage. She got a bigger shock when she contacted the Oceanside RCMP who told her it wasn’t their responsibility to investigate such complaints or to enforce the province’s COVID-19 Public Health Orders against health care workers.
Despite Health Minister Adrian Dix’s mantra that “we’re all in this together,” and Premier Horgan’s promises to “come down like a ton of bricks,” are BC’s health care providers and workers exempt from coronavirus pandemic regulations, investigations and enforcement by authorities?
On November 4, 2020, the BC Ministry of Health issued a Policy directive requiring “all health care workers and non-clinical staff working in settings where health care services are provided” including outpatient clinics and community practitioner offices, “must wear a medical mask.” The Policy also stipulated that members of the public visiting places where health care services are provided “must” wear a medical mask. On November 19, 2020 BC’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, followed up with an Order mandating mask wearing by every person over the age of 12 in all indoor public spaces, with a few exemptions as outlined in the legislation.
When Susan Blacklin visited Qualicum Beach chiropractor Dr. Thelma Zee on November 13, 2020, she says Dr. Zee tried to convince her not to wear a mask during the visit. Blacklin kept her mask on during the appointment, but says she remained “uncomfortable” because, she alleges, Dr. Zee did not wear a mask at any time during the appointment.
On November 19, 2020, Blacklin contacted the College of Chiropractors of BC to complain about her chiropractor not adhering to standard COVID protocols that even hairdressers and shopkeepers were obliged to follow.
Prior to attending a scheduled follow-up visit, Blacklin says she “messaged” Dr. Zee, “stating that I wanted us both to wear masks” [on her next visit]. According to Blacklin, Dr. Zee “grudgingly” agreed to wear a face shield but stated that she would not wear a mask. [Health care providers are not permitted to wear face shields alone as an alternative to mask wearing.]
During a follow-up visit on November 30, 2020, Blacklin says she asked Dr. Zee if other patients were being required to wear masks, and was told, “No. It’s their choice, and I cannot ask them to do so.” Blacklin alleges that Dr. Zee said of the mask order, “It’s against people’s rights.” Then, according to Blacklin, Dr. Zee “went on a huge rant,” claiming to be a member of a local activist group that opposes public health efforts to curtail the coronavirus pandemic, and referred to a recent gathering of over 150 people in Coombs that was dispersed by the RCMP for assembling indoors in numbers beyond the PHO Order limits, without masks or social distancing.
Shaken by Dr. Zee’s outburst, claims and disavowal of the Public Health Officer’s orders and regulations, Blacklin telephoned the RCMP to lodge a complaint about Dr. Zee’s conduct. According to Blacklin, after hearing her complaint, Corporal Jesse Foreman of the Oceanside RCMP confirmed that Dr. Thelma Zee was an organizer of the large group gathering in Coombs that the RCMP had recently had to disperse.
To Blacklin’s surprise though, Cpl. Foreman informed her that it was not the RCMP’s job to handle complaints about health care providers breaking the laws enacted to protect the public during the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, Cpl. Foreman advised Blacklin to file a complaint with BC Health, and gave her the name and phone number of a person to contact in the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health claimed they could not help either. Blacklin said that the Health Ministry employee told her that only the various health care professions’ regulatory bodies (i.e. Colleges) can deal with complaints about health care providers not obeying provincial Orders relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
So, Blacklin filed a complaint about Dr. Thelma Zee with the College of Chiropractors of BC on November 30, 2020. “I feel violated,” Blacklin states in her Complaint, “I have taken great precautions to maintain a very tight bubble, and now have been exposed to a health care provider who is blatantly ignoring the latest legislation from Dr. Henry.”
“She can believe whatever she likes,” Blacklin says of Dr. Zee, “but when she’s working as a health care provider, I would assume there’s a code of ethics that they have to work under for the public good, and she therefore has to follow laws.”
Police are empowered, and provided additional resources, to enforce Public Health Orders
The police (and this includes RCMP detachments across BC) are indeed empowered to investigate COVID-19 order violations, and to take punitive actions, as are the Ministry of Health, health authorities and municipal (i.e., Town of Qualicum Beach) bylaw officers.
On August 21, 2020, Mike Farnworth, BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, announced that, under the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Program Act, police were granted the power to enforce provincial health orders, in ongoing support of BC’s COVID-19 response and Restart Plan. Enforcement measures include issuing fines up to $2,000, revoking business licenses, and recommending charges, which, upon conviction, could result in judicial penalties of up to $10,000.
“In addition to enabling action from police,” the statement reads, “the Province is enlisting compliance and enforcement staff from provincial ministries to support enforcement and help issue tickets for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On November 23, 2020 the College of Chiropractors of BC had issued an advisory notice to all of its registered chiropractors of the requirements arising from Dr. Henry’s mask wearing mandate. “For Chiropractors, this means that masks must be worn both by doctors and patients, including in the treatment room, unless either, or both, is physically unable to wear a mask …” [Note: this statement by the College of Chiropractors is incomplete; the allowed exceptions include mental and cognitive impairments as well as physical impairment.]
College takes corrective action, but levies no penalty for chiropractor … so far?
In a letter dated December 16, 2020, the Deputy Registrar of the College of Chiropractors of BC, Dr. Douglas Wright, informed Susan Blacklin that he personally inspected Dr. Thelma Zee’s premises on December 4, 2020, and confirmed that Dr. Zee was not in compliance with COVID protocols for health care providers. As the Deputy Registrar stated in an email to Blacklin on December 17, “The College’s top priority was to get the procedures in place moving forward, to protect the patients. That includes screening, sanitization and masks for those that can wear a mask. That was [put] in place, shortly after I conducted the office inspection.” Dr. Wright informed Blacklin that he “confirmed that COVID protocols are now in place … ”
The Deputy Registrar’s letter also stated that, “after discussions with VIHA” [Island Health], Dr. Zee was “required to sign an undertaking with the College that requires her to advise all patients … that she is unable to wear a mask …” The Deputy Registrar gave no reason for Dr. Zee’s inability to wear a mask, but the law does not require a person to explain the reason.
Dr. Wright’s letter also states that he contacted Oceanside RCMP Cpl. Foreman to confirm Dr. Zee’s alleged involvement in the “Coombs meeting” but that Cpl. Foreman “advised he cannot provide information on any investigation over the phone due to privacy restrictions.” In a follow-up email to Blacklin, the Deputy Registrar, Dr. Douglas Wright, stated “Regarding the Coombs meeting, it appears no charges were laid by the police,” and as a result, the names of any parties in any records that might be obtained would be redacted, “and therefore [would provide] no evidence to the [College] Committee’s investigation.”
On December 15, 2020, Cpl. Foreman telephoned Susan Blacklin to deny that he told her that the practitioner was an organizer of the large Coombs gathering. Blacklin stated in an email to the Deputy Registrar that she is “100% certain that he [Foreman] confirmed she [Dr. Zee] was the organiser of the event …” in her previous telephone conversation with Foreman.
The Deputy Registrar’s letter states that Dr. Zee’s response to Blacklin’s Complaint was “expected next week,” i.e. before Christmas, but in an email one day later, he states that the practitioner “advises that her response will not be ready until the new year.”
Dr. Zee’s response letter dated January 28, 2021, written by her lawyer Manjot Parhar of the Vancouver firm Dolden Wallace Folick LLC, denies all of Blacklin’s allegations. Instead, Dr. Zee claims that she followed all COVID-19 protocols, denies saying that she said the mask Order was against people’s rights, denies that she told Blacklin that she was a member of a group that had a gathering in Coombs to oppose pandemic restrictions, and states that she is not associated with any anti-mask or anti-COVID group. Dr. Zee asks the College of Chiropractors to dismiss Susan Blacklin’s Complaint.
Blacklin responds, “It is her word against mine, I know exactly what she said and that is what made me extremely uncomfortable … ” Presumably, the Deputy Registrar would concur with Blacklin, at least with some points of her Complaint, having already determined at the time of his inspection of the chiropractor’s office that Dr. Zee was not in compliance with all COVID-19 protocols.
A decision by the College of Chiropractors of BC regarding Susan Blacklin’s Complaint against Dr. Thelma Zee’s conduct is pending.