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Alberta

Alberta Premier Smith seeking legal advice to pardon COVID-19 rule violators

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is seeking legal advice on whether she can pardon those fined for non-criminal violations of health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The things that come to top of mind for me are people who got arrested as pastors (and) people given fines for not wearing masks,” Smith told reporters Saturday at the United Conservative party’s annual general meeting.

“These are not things that are normal to get fines and get prosecuted for. I’m going to look into the range of outstanding fines and get some legal advice on which ones we are able to cancel and provide amnesty for.”

Smith also expanded on her promise to introduce narrow changes to the Human Rights Act this fall to forbid discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccination status.

She said the act won’t focus on all vaccinations, just COVID-19, because it is an issue that is political, not medical.

“Since it was a very specific reaction to a very specific vaccine mandate, we’re going to be very precise when we write the legislation,” she said.

“We have to get back to an attitude of you take a vaccine to protect yourself.

“(But) we have to get away from this attitude that you demonize those who make a different choice.”

Smith has been outspoken in her criticism of vaccine passports as well as employees, particularly in Alberta Health Services, not being allowed to work without a COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic.

On her first day as premier earlier this month, she said the COVID-19 unvaccinated were the most discriminated group she has seen in her lifetime.

During her speech Saturday at her party’s AGM, held at the River Cree Resort and Casino on Edmonton’s western outskirts, she reiterated her sharp criticism of Alberta Health Services, the arm’s-length agency of the government tasked with administering and delivering front-line care under policy direction from the Health Ministry.

She blames it for failing Albertans during the pandemic for not creating enough beds for the crush of patients and for forcing health staff to get COVID-19 vaccinations to come to work.

She places current long wait times for care and for ambulance dispatch at the feet of AHS and has promised to reorganize the entire AHS governance system and fire the AHS board by mid-January.

“The system, my friends, is broken,” Smith, told the 1,800 delegates in the hall.

“Most of those managing AHS today are holdovers from the NDP years. They have had their chance to fix this bloated system and they have largely failed on almost all accounts. Failure is no longer an option,” she said to cheers.

Smith, speaking to reporters, also declined to elaborate on comments she made to the Western Standard online outlet in a livestream interview Friday.

In that interview, Smith pledged to end an AHS information-sharing deal with other health providers such as the Mayo Clinic and Harvard University under a program administered by the World Economic Forum.

“We’ve got to address that,” Smith said Friday.

“Why in the world do we have anything to do with the World Economic Forum? That’s got to end.”

Asked about the comments Saturday, Smith declined to elaborate, saying she’s focused on fixing the health system.

Asked why she would address the issue on the Western Standard livestream site but not in the news conference, she said, “As you know there are certain forums that are entertainment forums. I was on an entertainment forum for a long time (as a radio host).”

The World Economic Forum refers to a high-profile yearly conference of global political and business leaders that in mid-2020 proposed a “great reset” for joint action post-COVID to reorder society from education to social contracts and working conditions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2022.

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Alberta

‘Not true’: Justice minister denies crying or yelling during doctor confrontation

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta’s justice minister said he felt sad and disappointed when he discovered someone he considered to be a friend was behind a social media post targeting him and his wife.

The Law Society of Alberta is in the final day of a hearing into allegations Tyler Shandro violated the profession’s code of conduct. The three complaints date back to his time as the provincial health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, who had posted a photo on social media of Shandro with a caption related to privatizing health care, told the hearing the minister and his wife visited his home in March 2020. He said it occurred during fractious negotiations between the government and the Alberta Medical Association over fees.

The photo of Shandro, with a thought bubble caption, said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.” Shandro’s wife, Andrea, is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.

Shandro said Thursday his spouse alerted him to the post earlier in the day, when there had been up to a thousand threats made against the couple.

“I recognized the account being someone I considered a friend and who lived around the corner,” Shandro said under questioning by his lawyer.

“The irony is that this is a fellow who had often engaged with me to discuss the importance of being careful with words, with online posts and what that could result in.”

The doctor testified earlier this week that he went outside of his home to meet Shandro and described the minister as being highly upset as he demanded the doctor remove the post immediately because his family was being subjected to death threats.

“I see Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying, he was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said.

“He said: ‘You can’t do this to us. We’re getting death threats.’ I think I asked him: ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said: ‘Delete your post.”’

Shandro said he walked over to Zaidi’s home by himself and asked the doctors’ children to send out their father. He said the conversation was over in a matter of minutes.

“I said: ‘Mukarram, why wouldn’t you have just asked me if you had questions? We know each other. You know me. You know Andrea. You know this isn’t true.’ And then I asked him: ‘Do you know this conspiracy theory is resulting in Andrea getting death threats?'” Shandro said.

“He said softly: ‘What do I do? Do I delete the post?’ I specifically did not take him up on that offer. I said: ‘Look, you have to decide that for yourself.'”

Shandro’s lawyer, Grant Stapon, asked his client what he had to say to Zaidi’s description of him crying and yelling while being held by his wife during the discussion.

“It’s not true. It isn’t true at all. Andrea was not there and if she really was there, it doesn’t benefit me to say she wasn’t there. If anything, it would be helpful to have her be there to corroborate,” Shandro replied.

“I definitely did not yell at him.”

Shandro said his wife did show up at the end of the conversation.

“She was emotional. She did have red eyes. She was crying earlier. She said: ‘Don’t talk to him. He’s not interested in us. He’s only interested in money.'”

Shandro said at that point they returned home.

Andrea Shandro is expected to testify later Thursday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Alberta

Alberta considers training doctors for rural practice in smaller centres

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Calgary – Alberta is looking for ways to train doctors in smaller cities in hopes they will be more likely to help relieve a shortage of physicians in rural areas.

Health Minister Jason Copping and Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides say the government is providing $1 million to four Alberta post-secondary institutions to look for ways to train doctors in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.

Alberta has medical schools at universities in Edmonton and Calgary, but Copping says training doctors outside the big cities increases the odds of graduates practising in the province’s smaller municipalities.

Todd Anderson of the University of Calgary’s medical school says there are a wide variety of options being considered, including stand-alone schools.

The University of Lethbridge and Northwestern Polytechnic in Grande Prairie are also involved in the program.

Anderson says research suggests three-quarters of doctors who train in rural areas end up practising in one as well.

Copping says the project will take six to eight years to show results.

“It’s going to take time to set the program up,” he said Thursday. “That’s a long-term strategy. But if you don’t start, you’ll never get there.”

Meanwhile, rural health care continues to experience staff shortages. On Thursday, the Milk River Health Centre Emergency Department announced it would close until Monday due to a doctor shortage.

Nurses were to remain on-site to provide care for long-term care residents.

Copping said Thursday’s announcement was just one part of the government’s health-care strategy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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