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Experts rally around doctor on Ontario COVID-19 science table amid conflict of interest allegations

Click to play video 'Medical community rallies online for Toronto doctor after conflict of interest allegations' Medical community rallies online for Toronto doctor after conflict of interest allegations
WATCH ABOVE: A publication has called into question Dr. David Fisman ability to serve on Ontario's COVID-19 science table. Fisman has also done paid consulting work for a teachers' union. There were questions on whether he could have both roles and remain impartial in his expert advice. Katherine Ward reports. – Jan 27, 2021

Dr. David Fisman is known for speaking his mind and not holding back.

Over the course of the pandemic, he has been especially pointed in his views about children returning to school, saying that enhanced health measures are needed to ensure being back in the classroom is safe.

Fisman has come into the spotlight this week for allegations of conflict of interest.

While he serves as one of the more than 20 members on the Ontario science table, he has also done paid consulting work with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

Read more: Potential conflict of interest involving Ontario nursing home inspectors a ‘big problem,’ experts say

A story first published by the Toronto Sun asserted that because he was paid for his work with the union, Fisman’s role advising the Ontario government is a conflict. The allegation has been met with harsh criticism from the medical community and beyond.

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Members of the science table are required to disclose their professional relationships. This information is publicly available online. As of Tuesday, his relationship with the union is listed. The link between Fisman and the teacher’s union has not been a secret.

A press release from Oct. 7, 2020, is one example. In the release, Fisman was listed as an expert, sharing views on the province’s return-to-school plan, which he saw as flawed.

Sam Hammond, the president of ETFO, said through legal counsel that Fisman was also retained over the summer to provide an expert opinion for a matter before the Ontario Labour Board. The matter focused on safe working conditions and Fisman was paid for his work.

Read more: Canadians can now see conflicts of interest declared by COVID-19 vaccine task force

“The government was represented at that hearing, they had all of the documents and affidavits provided,” Hammond said.

“Any suggestion whatsoever that Dr. Fisman’s opinion was based on the fact that we were paying him for it is absolutely absurd.”

In a statement Tuesday night, Premier Doug Ford’s office said the news about the relationship “is deeply concerning” and that they “learned about this matter through the media.”

As the news circulated, people quickly rallied online in support of Fisman. This included many prominent experts who have been front and centre throughout the pandemic.

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Read more: Ontario reports under 1,700 new coronavirus cases, 49 more deaths

At one point, the hashtag #ThankYouDavidFisman was trending and became number one on Twitter.

Even Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, joined in on the hashtag, writing, “I am grateful for the expertise and advice of @DFisman, and for the conversations he has had with me.”

Others from the medical community wrote about his “relentless advocacy” and his “leadership and courage,” with more referring to him as “a truth-teller.”

Associate professor and epidemiologist Dr. Raywat Deonandan said it is common for experts to be called on for their opinion, especially in proceedings. He said the nuances of the flow of information are important.

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“Dr. Fisman’s advice was the same given to the science table and to the teachers’ union so there is no conflict here,” Deonandan said.

“Had it been the teachers’ union influencing him, to influence the science table, well, that’s another matter entirely.”

Even with the scrutiny, Fisman said he remains focused on the pandemic and providing his medical advice.

“This is not about me. I’m one voice of many and I’m not going anywhere,” he tweeted.

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