British Columbia’s health minister said Interior Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic will not be hindered by the health authority’s top doctor being criminally charged with child sex crimes.
Adrian Dix said he’s limited in what we can say about the case against Dr. Albert de Villiers of Interior Health due to court proceedings.
“It is a police matter and we are limited about what we can say as it works its way through the judicial system,” Dix said on Wednesday.
“What I can say is that it won’t distract us at all, anyone at Interior Health, of protecting people from COVID-19.”
Dix continued, saying, “to everyone in Interior Health and across B.C., our efforts to get them protected, to get them vaccinated, and support those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the community or in care, continues and our efforts will continue to be at the highest possible level.”
On Tuesday, de Villiers was taken into custody by Kelowna RCMP on an arrest warrant issued by Alberta RCMP.
Grande Prairie Mounties said the 52-year-old is facing one count of sexual assault and one count of sexual interference.
On May 28, RCMP said it received a report of sexual offences against a young child that allegedly took place between 2018 and 2020.
Sexual interference is defined as touching someone under the age of 16 years for a sexual purpose, according to the Criminal Code of Canada.
The Grande Prairie RCMP Special Investigative Unit investigated the allegations with assistance from the Grande Prairie Caribou Child & Youth Centre.
De Villiers appeared in Kelowna Provincial Court on Wednesday via telephone to face the charges.
He was released from custody on a series of conditions, including that he must not be in the presence of anyone under the age of 16 or at places where children may frequent, such as parks, except if his wife is with him.
His next scheduled court date is in Grande Prairie on June 30.
De Villiers was the north zone lead medical health officer with Alberta Health Services, based in Grande Prairie, at the time of the alleged offences, according to his LinkedIn page.
He spent 16 years in that position, from January 2004 to July 2020, before leaving his post for a new job with the Interior Health Authority (IHA) based in Kelowna, B.C.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) declined to comment on Wednesday, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.
De Villiers had been the chief medical health officer in B.C.’s Interior since August, managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
He became the face of Interior Health’s pandemic response, often participating in media interviews.
De Villiers’ name has been removed from Interior Health’s website, under the medical health officers section.
It now lists Dr. Sue Pollock as interim chief medical health officer.
“She is someone who has been in this position before, she is an outstanding leader, and I have full confidence in her,” Dix said of Pollock’s new temporary role.
“I know she will continue to demonstrate and work hard to continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in Interior Health and across British Columbia.”
Interior Health and B.C.’s health ministry has not responded to inquiries about de Villiers’ employment status.
The chief medical health officer role is administrative, IH says, and the individual does not interact with clients or patients.
— With files from Jules Knox