Nfld. & Labrador

MDs, patients stay to side as Williams decries inquiry

Danny Williams maintains his concern for physicians and patients is motivating his criticism of the breast cancer inquiry, although he is not getting much support from either group.
'The quicker that this inquiry is resolved,' Danny Williams said, 'then that is in the best interest of the patients and, ultimately, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.' ((CBC))

Premier Danny Williams maintains his concern for physicians and patients is motivating his sharp criticism of Newfoundland and Labrador's breast cancer inquiry, although he is not getting much support from either group.

Moments after leaving a negotiating meeting Thursday evening with pathologists, oncologists and other health professionals, Williams chided the Cameron inquiry for using "inquisitorial methods."

Williams also used the phrase "witch hunt" to describe how inquiry counsel have handled witnesses. The government has applied to Justice Margaret Cameron to consider whether inquiry counsel may cross-examine witnesses.

Williams, who explained on Monday that he is concerned there will be an exodus of physicians if doctors have to undergo such questioning at the inquiry, has said his government wants to see an expedited conclusion to the hormone receptor testing issue for the benefit of patients.

However, both physicians and cancer patients say they want a full, unfettered public inquiry, and do not see a need to hurry.

Dr. Joe Tumilty, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, said the issue of the inquiry was not on the agenda at Thursday's meeting, although Williams had had an informal discussion with a physician during the meeting.

Doctor made 'Spanish Inquisition' comment: premier

Williams told the legislature Tuesday that the "Spanish Inquisition" phrase — which he said inspired his use of the phrase "inquisitorial methods" — was said by a female physician sitting next to him at Thursday night's meeting.

Dr. Joe Tumilty said the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Assocation has 'full confidence' in Justice Margaret Cameron. ((CBC))

Tumilty said, though, that the inquiry is not the key reason why Eastern Health has lost two pathologists, and why recruitment is difficult. He said workload is a much more significant issue.

"The inquiry is just another thing that's ongoing right now, and I don't think that it has had a significant impact on the physicians who have decided to tender their resignations," he said.

'I think that the overall problems that have occurred over the last five or six year have led to that."

Pathologist Dr. Dan Fontaine, who recently gave his notice to Eastern Health, told CBC News two weeks ago that workload, not the inquiry, prompted his decision.

Tumilty said physicians are looking forward to have their full say at the inquiry, and that the NLMA wants Cameron to continue her work without being told to wrap things up too early.

"I personally don't care if takes two months or two years," Tumilty told CBC News Tuesday. "We have full confidence in Justice Cameron doing her job."

In the house of assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Williams said again that an early resolution would benefit cancer patients.

"As a lawyer, I know that is a long process and it takes some considerable period of time," Williams told the legislature.

"The quicker that this inquiry is resolved and we get to the heart of it and we get to the bottom of the causes, then that is in the best interest of the patients and, ultimately, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Leave inquiry alone, patients say

Since Williams started criticizing the inquiry last week, though, breast cancer patients have called on the government to leave the inquiry alone.

Norman White, a Bay of Islands resident who testified in March at the Cameron inquiry, denied that the inquiry is a "witch hunt," and said that it is now politicians who have become intimidating.

"To me, I think there is too much political involvement," said White, referring to criticism levelled by both Williams and Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy, who complained about the inquiry's tone, speed and costs on Friday during a phone call to a VOCM open line radio show.

"They appointed Justice Cameron [to] this inquiry. I don't know why they're just intimidating them," he said.

Cancer patient Donna Howell said she disagrees with trying to bring the inquiry to an early close, and said that Cameron should get the full extension she is seeking. Cameron, who was originally asked to file a report by July 30, has asked for an extension to Feb. 28.

"I'm probably not even going to be around," said Howell, who is receiving chemotherapy.

"So it's certainly not in my best interest, personally, to have it hang on forever and ever and ever, but the truth is that it is in the best interest that anybody who's coming behind us to make sure that this doesn't happen to anybody else," Howell told CBC News.

In a letter published Wednesday in the St. John's Telegram, lawyer and cancer patient Janet Henley Andrews, who has also testified at the inquiry, disagreed with the suggestion that counsel at the inquiry have been too aggressive.

"I am sure that the government is unhappy with the evidence to date, since they look pretty bad," Henley Andrews wrote. "That, in itself, does not make the inquiry prosecutorial."

Peter Dawe, executive director of the Canadian Cancer Society's Newfoundland and Labrador division, said earlier this week it would be unjust not to grant Cameron a full extension.

Williams dismisses Gomery criticism

Meanwhile, Opposition politicians went on the offensive against Williams and Kennedy again in the legislature over their recent handling of the inquiry issue.

Williams brushed off their criticism of political interference, and also dismissed comments from retired justice John Gomery, who oversaw the commission of inquiry on the federal sponsorship scandal. Gomery said it was inappropriate for Williams to question how the Cameron inquiry is working.

"Judge Gomery is not here. He hasn't seen the inquiry. I don't know if he has seen Mr. Coffey examine and cross-examine," Williams told reporters, referring to inquiry co-counsel Bern Coffey.

"He's not seeing what I've witnessed … So he is actually commenting in a vacuum on this particular issue, but he is speaking from Quebec, I think, and we are here in Newfoundland and Labrador."

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