Documents prove need for public inquiry: opposition

New documents in the Dr. Ciaran McNamee case are proof that a public inquiry is needed to investigate allegations of intimidation against Alberta doctors, opposition politicians said Monday.

New documents in the Dr. Ciaran McNamee court case offer more proof that a public inquiry is needed to investigate allegations of intimidation against Alberta doctors, opposition politicians said Monday.

McNamee is a thoracic surgeon formerly based in Edmonton who alleged he was forced from his job for speaking out about surgery wait times and patient resources. His 2001 lawsuit against Capital Health and two senior managers was settled out of court.

The documents tabled in the Alberta legislature Monday include a list of people who sent and received letters and emails in McNamee's case.

The actual content of the letters is not revealed and Liberal leader David Swann said a public inquiry is needed to put that information into the public domain.

"Some of the names listed in these documents are from Capital Health Authority and from the government and it could show they were connected in some way and (they) knew about the intimidation of Dr. McNamee," Swann said.

"We're not making accusations. We're saying that without a public inquiry, we can't know these facts and they're important facts that relate to intimidation and the need for a public inquiry."

A number of Alberta physicians have stepped forward with allegations of intimidation by health officials since the issue was first raised in February by Independent MLA Raj Sherman.

The government has insisted that a probe now underway by the Health Quality Council of Alberta is sufficient for investigating these complaints.

Dr. Ciaran McNamee now teaches at Harvard. (Provided)
But opposition politicians say the HQC investigation is not the proper forum as it is taking place behind closed doors and does not offer doctors legal protection to break confidentiality agreements.

McNamee is bound by such an agreement, which prohibits him from speaking publicly about his case. Last week, he released a statement saying he will not discuss his experience unless he is granted the protection offered by a public inquiry.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky continued Monday to reject calls for an inquiry. He said the HQC probe will be thorough and doctors will be protected if they testify.

"They'll be given full anonymity, they'll be given full protection of privacy and confidentiality," he said. "I would encourage anyone who finds themselves wanting to speak to the Health Quality Council to please, please give them a call and tell your story."

Zwozdesky says a public inquiry would take longer than the HQC probe and cost more money.

"We're talking about a couple of non-disclosure agreements here that I'm aware of so far," he said.

"I don't know if there's many more than that. But I can't see where this would require a judge-led public inquiry when we have a very good process already in place."

Last week, the Alberta Medical Association, which represents the majority of the province's physicians, added its voice to those calling for a public inquiry.