When an Ontario doctor argued publicly that Canadians need neither a vaccine nor lockdowns to combat COVID-19 but should rely instead on a controversial malaria drug, some of the response was sharp.
Fellow physicians, academics and journalists called out Dr. Kulvinder Kaur Gill on social media last summer for peddling what they alleged was anti-scientific misinformation and conspiracy theory.
At least one of her tweets was removed by Twitter, and complaints were filed to Ontario’s medical regulator. Those recently resulted in cautions for “irresponsible” and “indefensible” behaviour that could endanger public health.
But then the dialogue took a different turn.
Gill filed a $6.8-million libel suit in December against 38 of the detractors – including a former president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) – claiming they had maliciously sullied her reputation.
The defendants include two former allies of Gill’s in a previous push to reform the powerful OMA, while the suit alleges racist and misogynist motives.
A year since the first lockdown was imposed, the case seems to underscore the bitter divisions spawned by the virus and efforts to curb it, even among health-care professionals.
“The individual defendants, like a pack of hyenas, attempted and in fact coordinated a circling of the plaintiff to literally destroy her career and reputation,” charges Gill’s statement of claim.
Handling the lawsuit is Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati, known himself for outspoken views about the pandemic. Galati has called public-health measures against the virus a “vicious fraud,” referred to protective face coverings as “slave-trade masks” and blamed it all on the “predatory globalist agenda of Bill Gates and his criminalist cohorts.”
Microsoft founder Gates has given away much of his vast fortune to help combat disease and poverty in the developing world.
Meanwhile, the pediatrician recently teamed up with another scientific outlier on one of her causes – promotion of the drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. Among the authors on a paper that concluded the malaria medicine was a useful therapy were Gill and Paul Alexander. He’s the part-time McMaster University professor who controversially tried to influence the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other American government agencies as a Trump-administration appointee.
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None of the allegations in the lawsuit has been proven in court and no statement of defence has yet been filed.
Two defendants dismissed the claims when reached this week.
“We believe the case is without merit with respect to Dr. Jacobs and we’re seeking to have it dismissed at the earliest opportunity,” said lawyer Andrew Winton, representing prominent radiologist David Jacobs.
“She’s not going to get any money from anybody,” predicted Dr. Terry Polevoy, a retired Waterloo, Ont., physician who crusades against what he considers anti-scientific health claims and products. “We told the truth. We presented facts.”
Gill referred inquiries to Galati, who declined to comment, saying that the suit spoke for itself.
The legal action targets mostly a series of tweets that began last August after Gill wrote that a vaccine is not needed against COVID-19, and that society has existing defences in the form of “the Truth … T-cell immunity … Hydroxychloroquine.”
She also tweeted that “there is absolutely no medical or scientific reason for this prolonged, harmful, and illogical lockdown.”
One response suggested it was “quite shocking” for such comments to come from a Canadian physician leader, followed by reference to an “army of hydroxychloroquine bots and unhinged conspiracy theorists” chastizing Gill’s critic.
She’s not going to get any money from anybody
Doctors and others then accused the physician of spreading conspiracy theories, being an “extremist crank” and part of a “war on science.” Some suggested she be investigated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, or actually filed complaints with the regulator.
The suit alleges the criticism of Gill, a woman of Sikh background, falsely and maliciously painted her as incompetent, mentally unstable and unscientific, threatening her future income and career opportunities. It said her views were backed by a “good portion” of the world’s scientific community,” while the criticisms were “laced with sexist, misogynist and racially overt overtures.”
Last month, Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons issued official cautions to Gill for posts stating there was no need for a vaccine or justification for lockdowns. The tweets showed a lack of professionalism and caution that posed a potential risk to public health, its decision said.
“A safe, tested vaccine is the ideal solution to protecting the population and bringing about the end of the pandemic with the lowest possible number of deaths,” said the regulator.
In another decision, it blasted her for an “indefensible” retweet suggesting that contact tracing, testing and isolation were ineffective and counter-productive.
But the agency dismissed a separate complaint about the doctor’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine in August, saying that at the time there was some good evidence of its effectiveness.
The jury is not completely in today on hydroxychloroquine, which became a political football after former U.S. president Donald Trump touted it. Some trials are still ongoing. But the most recently published or internet-posted “meta-analyses” – studies of past research – conclude the drug had little or no impact on the coronavirus. One analysis did cite lesser-quality observational studies that suggested low doses could lessen mortality.
The study by Gill, Alexander and other authors, however, concluded that early use of hydroxychloroquine combined with other drugs cut mortality in nursing-home residents.
T-cell immunity is a theme embraced by COVID-19 skeptics such as U.S. Senator Rand Paul and controversial Trump advisor Dr. Scott Atlas, who believe herd immunity to the virus may be close at hand. T cells are a part of the immune system not detected in antibody tests, which suggest only a small portion of the population has natural defences against the virus.
Studies have suggested that 20-50 per cent of people have T cells that recognize the COVID-19 virus, likely because of previous infection with common-cold coronaviruses. But even the scientist who spearheaded that research has said it’s unknown whether those cells protect against the pandemic bug, and almost certain they wouldn’t produce herd immunity.
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