Revealed: How a web of Canadian doctors are undermining the fight against COVID-19

Canada doctors vaccine
Click to play video: 'Ontario family physician says more must be done to hold doctors with anti-vaccine views accountable' Ontario family physician says more must be done to hold doctors with anti-vaccine views accountable
Ontario family physician says more must be done to hold doctors with anti-vaccine views accountable – Jan 18, 2022

Seemingly baffled, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan didn’t quite know what to say when told only one of the four defendants for a hearing showed up.

It was a landmark hearing for Ontario. Four doctors —  Rochagne Kilian, Mary O’Connor, Mark Trozzi and Patrick Phillips — had been scheduled to appear to fight legal proceedings brought by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) late last year.

Trozzi, O’Connor and Kilian have been accused by the CPSO of failing to comply with investigations into allegations they issued false medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine. Phillips, the CPSO says, is threatening to re-release a tranche of confidential documents on Twitter.

But on Jan. 7, only O’Connor, and her lawyer Michael Swinwood, showed up on Zoom to argue their case.

“Alright. Um, ah, okay,” Morgan said, after being informed that Trozzi and Phillips’ lawyer, Michael Alexander, had decided to “withdraw” and would not be appearing at the hearing, despite CPSO counsel telling Alexander this was not allowed under civil procedure.

Conversation then turned to Kilian. Her lawyer, Rocco Galati, had been hospitalized and was in intensive care with an undisclosed illness, resulting in her case being rescheduled.

Read more: The great COVID-19 infodemic: How disinformation networks are radicalizing Canadians

The prominent anti-vaccine lawyer has frequently represented groups and individuals challenging vaccine mandates and has described vaccination as “experimentation.”

Morgan wished Galati good health before deciding to press ahead with the hearing.

What followed was a journey down a rabbithole of anti-Covid-19-vaccine rhetoric, conspiracy theories and one claim that the pandemic was a “planned exercise in population control.” It concluded with an argument from defence lawyer, Swinwood, that Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions are akin to Nazi Germany regulations.

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Doug Ford satisfied with CPSO process restricting Ontario doctors – Oct 18, 2021

But these views from licensed medical professionals — seemingly at odds with the science that an education in medicine preaches — are not confined to this one virtual court hearing in Ontario. A small but vocal minority of doctors across Canada is attempting to sway public opinion to oppose COVID-19 vaccines.

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Many are being investigated or have had their medical licences suspended. Many have not.

Experts are concerned that these doctors — speaking at rallies and promoting their views in widely shared videos — are lending weight to the anti-vaccine cause.

“It’s definitely harmful to the public. I think it’s absolutely connected to the vaccine hesitancy rates that we’re seeing,” Queen’s University assistant professor and family doctor Michelle Cohen says.

“They’re just adding to the infodemic and to this sludge of disinformation … that’s just flying around and making it very confusing for many people to figure out what is accurate and what is not.”

At first glance, it seems that these doctors are acting independently.

But Global News can reveal that many are connected.

 

Enable Air: selling exemptions 'for a fee'

According to court documents from Jan. 7, Kilian is alleged to have provided vaccine exemptions through a website called Enable Air, which works with “licensed physicians” to grant vaccination and mask exemptions for an undisclosed fee.

As a result, the Owen Sound family doctor had her certificate of registration suspended late last year.

Enable Air was taken down late last year after media inquiries into its operation. It later re-launched, with an added footnote about media “corruption.”

The website does not disclose the physicians who are issuing the exemptions. Nor does it disclose its organizers.

The HTML code on the Enable Air website lists a phone number linked to former B.C. physician Gwyllyn Goddard.

But upon investigation of an archived version of Enable Air’s original website, the mobile number listed in the HTML code under the “Message us on WhatsApp” widget can be matched with publicly listed contact information for a B.C. physician. His name is Gwyllyn Goddard.

Goddard’s website describes him as, among other things, an entrepreneur, humanitarian and family physician.

But, Goddard’s College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (CPSBC) listing shows he resigned in 2016.

Gwyllyn Goddard’s website states that he is, among other things, a ‘physician, science team leader, entrepreneur and agronomist.’.

When contacted, Goddard said he had “no idea” what Enable Air is. When asked why his number was listed on its website, he said his phone number “is part of an email group that I sold into a company like 10 years ago and they’re all managed by one company, so I get a free cellphone basically.”

When asked to explain what he meant, he repeated a similar answer but said it was 15 years ago.

Goddard then said he had to go and hung up.

Half an hour later, Enable Air’s website was taken down. But the exemption form, a Google document, remains active.

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Enable Air’s website, pictured on January 13, after we spoke to Gwyllyn Goddard. Screenshot

Lawyer Rocco Galati has also been connected to the website.

In an archived page from July 2021, the website states 50 per cent of the “post administrative fees” for the Enable Air medical exemptions go to Galati, who is also the executive director of the Toronto-based Constitutional Rights Centre, “to pay for the fees required to win cases that support employees and other people’s rights to informed medical consent.”

Global News called Galati’s office and sent multiple emails to his associates but has not received a reply.

Rocco Galati has been linked with Enable Air, as an archived page from the website shows. Screenshot

Enable Air claims to have been a popular service. In an archived page from May 2021, the website states 462 people were currently in the queue for exemptions.

Global News obtained a medical exemption from a source, provided by Enable Air, dated June 24, 2021.

The exemption — drawn up in an array of fonts and colours — states that the patient should be exempt from wearing a mask and receiving a vaccine, citing a wide-ranging list of medical reasons the exemption “might include” from claustrophobia to migraines.

It was signed by another B.C. doctor: Dr. Stephen Malthouse.

A vaccine exemption reportedly signed by B.C. physician Stephen Malthouse. Screenshot

Malthouse found notoriety in October when he wrote an open letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s health officer, challenging COVID restrictions and claiming COVID-19 is no more deadly than the flu. In March, he suggested in a video that mRNA vaccines could cause autoimmune diseases or infertility — claims that have been debunked.

Malthouse’s CPSBC page shows he is still practising. He did not answer emails or phone calls from Global News.

In June 2021, Malthouse filed a petition to the B.C. Supreme Court, accusing the CPSBC of violating his free speech, after the college threatened to reprimand him for public comments he made against the COVID-19 vaccines.

In the petition, Malthouse argues the college had no right to “curtail, deny, nor regulate” his free speech.

Malthouse was represented on this petition by Rocco Galati.

Doctors on Tour alleges Covid vaccine 'kills children'

Malthouse is now part of a contingent of medical professionals touring the country to persuade the general public that vaccines are harmful, called “Doctors on Tour.”

Videos posted online from an event held on Dec. 13 at the Embassy Church in Kelowna shows a packed room of non-mask-wearing congregants, huddled around Malthouse, whooping and clapping.

Malthouse asked the assembled crowd to act as “emissaries” and to “pass the word” on a stream of claims he makes about the vaccine, including that they “could kill children.”

Health Canada, the CDC and many other health agencies say the vaccines are safe and effective. A growing body of research shows a first booster or third COVID-19 vaccine dose, which is recommended for all Canadian adults, raises antibody levels, cuts death rates and hospitalization.

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Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Health Canada approves Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11' COVID-19: Health Canada approves Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11
COVID-19: Health Canada approves Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11 – Nov 19, 2021

Malthouse then introduces Dr. Charles Hoffe, who begins with a speech about St. Bartholomew’s Health Centre in Lytton, where he worked, preparing for COVID-19 by setting up a negative pressure room to intubate “dead and dying patients.”

St Bartholomew’s was Lytton’s sole medical clinic before the town burned to the ground in June 2021.

Hoffe then said, to rapturous applause, not “one single Covid patient” was admitted to the emergency room before the clinic was destroyed.

But that’s because Covid patients would never have stayed in Lytton.

A spokesperson for Interior Health told Global News that St. Bartholomew’s had no in-patient beds, so patients requiring intensive care would have been taken to the nearest hospital with an ICU, which was the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

Doctors Charles Hoffe, left, and Stephen Malthouse, right, appear in a YouTube video for the “Doctors on Tour” event. YouTube

Hoffe then went on to reference his own research using D-dimer tests (a blood test that checks for clots), claiming that “more than half” of participants tested positive for blood clots after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine — a direct contradiction to the rate of between one in 83,000 and one in 55,000 patients cited by the National Advisory Center on Immunization.

He concluded by stating the vaccines are “lethal,” describes them as “clot shots” and “death shots,” and claims that “more people have died from these shots than from all vaccines in history combined.”

According to federal data, 258 deaths have occurred following the administration of 68.2 million vaccine doses and most cannot be definitively linked to the vaccine. This pales in comparison to the number of COVID-related deaths in Canada, which now stands at 31,190.

When contacted, a reasoned and methodical Hoffe politely set out his arguments about the safety of the vaccine, citing his own research and international studies Global could not find. To the untrained ear, his reasoning sounds rational and well-researched.

It was far different from the man who had stood on a chair in a church and proclaimed the vaccine a “death shot” just a few weeks earlier.

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Omicron in Ontario: Navigating vaccines, school reopening, and more – Jan 17, 2022

Hoffe said he was reprimanded by Interior Health for “questioning the safety” of COVID-19 vaccines in an email to 18 colleagues, calling it an “experimental treatment,” in March 2021. This was then referred to the CPSBC, who placed him under investigation, he said.

One month later, he said he told a patient who came to him with a “vaccine injury” that she did not need to have her second dose, and was reported by a nurse to a St Batholomew’s supervisor. Hoffe said he was then fired.

Interior Health said they could not answer questions about human resource issues but confirmed Hoffe was no longer working at St Bartholomew’s prior to the centre burning down.

Read more: Several buildings destroyed after wildfire forces evacuation of Lytton, B.C.

In the months since, Hoffe said he “keeps getting new complaints” from the CPSBC in relation to his conduct, including sharing unverified statistics during the ‘Doctors on Tour’ event. However, he said he has only had one hearing and remains under investigation, nine months after his first complaint.

Hoffe’s license remains active. He said he continues to see patients one or two days per week in a room loaned to him by a local First Nation band in Lytton, but mostly does Zoom or telephone consultations.

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The CPSBC refused to comment on Hoffe’s case.

Hoffe says his lawyer is Michael Alexander. Alexander is also representing Trozzi and Phillips — defendants in the Jan. 7 hearing in Ontario.

From B.C. to Ontario: how the doctors are linked

Hoffe’s D-dimer claims have gone on to find a foothold in anti-vaccine groups on social media platform Telegram. The claims have been shared as reliable medical information. They have also been repeated by other doctors. Rochagne Kilian is one of them.

In a video uploaded to YouTube in late October, Kilian repeats many of Hoffe’s claims about an alleged rise of blood clots in vaccine recipients.

The video contains the logo for the Canadian Covid Care Alliance (CCCA) and is hosted on their YouTube page. The CCCA is described as a group of “Canadian doctors, scientists and health care practitioners committed to providing independent science-based evidence to empower Canadians.”

Rochagne Kilian speaks in a video featuring unverified medical information for the Canadian Covid Care Alliance. Screenshot

The CCCA’s website and social media pages are full of statements about COVID-19 vaccines that contradict public health advice. The website does not identify the doctors affiliated with the service.

But the CCCA’s listed address on their Corporations Canada page matches that of Toronto physician Ira Bernstein.

Bernstein, a family physician of 30 years, has appeared in videos speaking openly about treating COVID-19 patients with ivermectin — a medication Health Canada has authorized to treat parasitic worm infections in humans.

“(However,) there is no evidence that ivermectin works to prevent or treat COVID-19, and it is not authorized for this use,” says Health Canada. It has not received any submission or applications for clinical trials geared to COVID-19 treatment.

In several videos, Bernstein also discloses he is the founder of the CCCA. On Twitter and LinkedIn he states his speciality is “nutritional medicine.”

Ira Bernstein, a Toronto physician, is the founder of the Canadian Covid Care Alliance (CCCA). Twitter

In one video, on Canadian online video platform Rumble, Bernstein discusses founding the medical group with Jennifer Hibberd (a dentist) and David Ross (an accountant).

In an email, Ross declined to answer specific questions and declined a phone interview. Instead, he said the CCCA aimed to be “part of the solution,” but did not clarify what the CCCA was trying to solve.

Hibberd did not respond to questions.

What is the Canadian Covid Care Alliance?

A recent CCCA video has received more than 1.6 million views on Rumble.

The nearly 40 minute-long presentation, entitled “Pfizer inoculations do more harm than good”, makes several false claims about the Pfizer vaccine or statements that contradict statements made by health officials, including that animal testing was “skipped” during the vaccine’s development (the vaccine was tested on macaques), the vaccine is not safe for pregnant people (health officials have repeatedly said all vaccines approved for use in Canada are safe for those thinking of getting pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding) and Danish football star Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch following a COVID-19 vaccination (Eriksen was not vaccinated).

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The video also repeats a previously debunked claim that the Pfizer vaccine caused 1,200 deaths in a 90-day period.

Bernstein and Kilian are now both planning new medical services (Bernstein plans to launch a telemedicine health service. Kilian plans a facility for “disenfranchised patients”, despite her licence being suspended).

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Ford says it’s up to College of Physicians and Surgeons to ‘police’ doctors giving vaccine exemptions' COVID-19: Ford says it’s up to College of Physicians and Surgeons to ‘police’ doctors giving vaccine exemptions
COVID-19: Ford says it’s up to College of Physicians and Surgeons to ‘police’ doctors giving vaccine exemptions – Oct 18, 2021

Kilian’s husband, Abrie Kilian, spoke to Global News on her behalf, but declined to comment on the hearing and her alleged association with Enable Air.

Unlike Kilian, Bernstein’s CPSO license is still active, with no restrictions. According to the Ontario Physicians and Surgeons Discipline Tribunal’s website, Bernstein has not been referred for disciplinary action.

A CPSO spokesperson said they could not comment on the existence of an investigation until it was referred to the tribunal.

Bernstein did not answer emails or phone calls.

College investigations can take years

The fact that Bernstein is not currently facing disciplinary action is not unusual. The process for a College to investigate one of its members is lengthy and involves the collation of substantive evidence.

The CPSO, in particular, attempts to resolve complaints within 10 months, but complex cases can take years.

Ontario is also unique in its ability to restrict or suspend licences for those under investigation — but the bar to do so is high. In most cases, health professionals can continue practising medicine while being investigated.

That’s why the Jan. 7 hearing is such a landmark proceeding. Killian, O’Connor, Trozzi and Phillips are among the only health professionals in Canada with their medical licences suspended or restricted in relation to COVID-19.

Click to play video: 'Moore says ‘absolute minority’ of doctors spreading COVID-19 misinformation' Moore says ‘absolute minority’ of doctors spreading COVID-19 misinformation
Moore says ‘absolute minority’ of doctors spreading COVID-19 misinformation – Sep 29, 2021

According to court documents, O’Connor, an Ottawa doctor, is alleged to have issued a vaccine exemption to a patient because the vaccine “could cause a life-threatening illness.”

In a response to the CPSO’s concerns about her conduct, O’Connor then asked the CPSO to “define COVID-19” and described the vaccinations as “gene therapy experiments.”

Her licence was suspended on Dec. 23, 2021.

O’Connor’s lawyer, Michael Swinwood, told Justice Morgan in his closing on Jan. 7 that issuing exemptions was a matter of constitutional freedom and then said the similarities between health restrictions in Canada and Nazi Germany were “eerie.”

Calls and emails to Swinwood and O’Connor have gone unanswered.

'He appears to be a very concerning individual'

Trozzi, who didn’t show up on Jan. 7 along with Phillips, was barred from issuing medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, masking requirements and testing at the same time as Kilian. His licence, however, is still active.

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According to court documents, Trozzi — who is not affiliated with any hospital and is on sabbatical — granted medical exemptions to patients in which he described vaccines as “injectable COVID-19 experimental genetic therapies.”

Trozzi operates a website on which he blogs alongside Paul Elias Alexander — a Canadian health researcher and former Trump administration official. According to CPSO lawyer Peter Wardle, Trozzi has described the pandemic as a “planned exercise in population control.”

“He appears to be a very concerning individual with some very dangerous views,” Wardle said during the hearing.

Questions to Trozzi were answered by Alexander, who said Trozzi “had not issued any ‘fake’ medical exemptions” and stood by claims the vaccines are “not safe and effective.”

When asked why he and his clients did not show up to the hearing, Alexander said they “determined that it wasn’t in our interests to appear” and “other actions are underway” to address the allegations.

Click to play video: 'Ontario doctor accused of spreading COVID-19 misinformation' Ontario doctor accused of spreading COVID-19 misinformation
Ontario doctor accused of spreading COVID-19 misinformation – Sep 28, 2021

The application against Phillips, accused of publishing confidential documents online, came after the rural family doctor made comments on social media against vaccines and public health measures, including comparing COVID-19 public health measures in Canada to the genocide of Jewish people in Second World War Germany.

The CPSO said Phillips was “incompetent” in his communications.

Two investigations into Phillips followed, one prompted by his comments on social media and the second after he posted a tranche of confidential CPSO documents from the investigation on Twitter, including the names of experts and CPSO staff, leading them to be attacked online by Phillips’ supporters. At the time, Phillips had 40,000 Twitter followers.

Read more: Restrictions imposed on Ontario doctor accused of spreading COVID misinformation

Wardle said Phillips ultimately took the documents down but he is now threatening to repost them.

Phillips’ Twitter account has since been suspended. His medical licence is restricted.

Alexander said Phillips has a right to publish his investigative materials under section 36 of the Regulated Health Professions Act.

Section 36 states information should be kept confidential in the course of a doctor’s duties with very few exceptions. One exception is if there is “compelling public interest” in a CPSO investigation.

Alexander repeated the same statement given for Trozzi. Phillips stands by his views that COVID-19 vaccines are “not safe and effective.”

A listing on a Christian crowdfunding website for Dr Patrick Phillips shows he has raised almost $50,000 for his legal fight. Screenshot

A listing on a Christian crowdfunding site, where Phillips is soliciting donations for his legal fight, has raised almost $45,000.

The listing states Phillips had been working on his legal defence with Rocco Galati.

'A borderless flow of disinformation'

Global News asked all 10 provinces and three territories how many physicians have been investigated due to anti-vaccine views.

A spokesperson for Manitoba refused to answer. Saskatchewan said there have been two letters of concern sent to physicians, B.C. would not comment on investigations but said they have not suspended any physician’s licences in connection with disinformation. Quebec said “some” reports had been received but all had been dealt with. Ontario said there have been two suspensions and four restrictions.

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There have been none in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alberta. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island did not respond.

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‘It’s killing people’: The great COVID-19 infodemic – Dec 27, 2021

This raises a big unanswered question when Canadians are sharing information, knowingly or unknowingly, that draws on unverified health information put out there by licensed doctors. Are medical regulators doing enough to hold doctors to account for their public statements?

Telegram is now awash with references to “clot shots” and “death shots” and citations of doctors’ unverified information on myocarditis and blood clots. People speak freely on Twitter about how to find ivermectin in Canada.

Queen’s University assistant professor Michelle Cohen says the movement is “really problematic” as doctors are often held up as experts.

“Their medical credentials get used to promote these denialist and anti-vax, anti-mask and anti-public health ideas and their credentials are just kind of waved out there, like a flag,” she says.

“So it really matters a lot that these doctors are showing up on these large platforms and saying, ‘I’m a doctor, here’s the research I’ve done. Here’s what I see. Here’s the science as I understand it,’ and then just unleashing a bunch of just provably false information and unscientific nonsense that people aren’t necessarily going to be able to parse.”

She said many Canadian doctors were taking their cues from prominent U.S. anti-vaccine doctors and there was now a “borderless flow of disinformation” between the two countries.

Cohen says there is “definitely not” enough being done to hold these doctors to account.

“[Colleges] are not moving quickly enough. Investigation takes months and months and months. And the speed of this information is very fast.”