An Ontario doctor has been cautioned by the College of Physicians and Surgeons for social media posts about COVID-19 that were deemed inaccurate and irresponsible.
Dr. Kulvinder Gill was issued three cautions for “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” statements she posted on Twitter that claimed neither lockdowns nor vaccines were necessary.
She had also written that “we don’t need a vaccine,” and shared a Tweet claiming that contact tracing, testing and isolation were “ineffective, naive & counter-productive against COVID-19.”
The college’s complaints committee cautioned Gill for all three posts, citing a “lack of professionalism and failure to exercise caution in her posts on social media, which is irresponsible behaviour for a member of the profession and presents a possible risk to public health.”
The college said Gill intended to appeal the rulings.
A statement issued by an organization headed by her lawyer accused the college of "selectively, and in bad faith" taking her comments out of context, and ignoring "world scientific and medical opinion" supporting her. She retweeted the statement.
The first of their type, the cautions come as Canada’s doctors are growing increasingly concerned about misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 that have become pervasive online.
"A caution arises where the committee is concerned about an aspect of a physician's practise or professionalism or conduct," Carolyn Silver, the college's general counsel, told Global News.
"It is meant to protect the public. A summary of the decision, as you can see, is on the public website. So it is public information and that information becomes part of the physician's history."
"And if any subsequent concerns arise with respect to a physician's practise or conduct or professionalism, that history is available to the college to consider."
The Ontario Medical Association said in a statement responding to the cautions that it was important to use “science and proven public health measures as the basis for decisions on how to curb the pandemic, despite the alarming amount of misinformation still being spread about COVID-19.”
In its decision, the college said that while it was valid to point out that lockdowns had drawbacks, and to question if they were working or whether the costs outweighed the benefits, Gill had gone beyond that.
“She stated unequivocally and without providing any evidence that there is no medical or scientific reason for the lockdown," the college wrote.
"Her statement does not align with the information coming from public health, and moreover, it is not accurate,” according to the ruling.
Lockdowns in China and South Korea were evidence they reduced the spread of COVID-19, the college wrote.
“For the respondent to state otherwise is misinformed and misleading and furthermore an irresponsible statement to make on social medial during a pandemic,” the decision read.
Gill is the co-founder of the advocacy group Concerned Ontario Doctors. Her Twitter account has more than 56,000 followers. She could not be reached for comment.
Her claim that vaccinations were not needed was also deemed inappropriate by the college, which said vaccines had been tested and approved in Canada and were the best way to end the pandemic.
“While it is possible for a return to ‘normal life’ without vaccinating the public, this is a high-risk strategy and one that could potentially take years to achieve,” the college wrote.
According to the decision, Gill provided no evidence to support the statement that vaccines were not necessary.
“It would be expected and understandable if a certain proportion of the general public who read this statement decided to decline the vaccine with the assurance that they were acting on the guidance of a physician,” the college wrote.
“For this reason, the committee considered it irresponsible, and a potential risk to public health, for the respondent to have made this statement in the middle of a pandemic.”
The college complaints committee additionally took Gill to task for retweeting that contact tracing, testing and isolation were counter-productive, a view it called “indefensible.”
“The committee would expect a certain proportion of the non-medically trained public who read this post to subsequently decide not to follow government and public health rules and recommendations regarding contact tracing, testing and isolation," the ruling read.
“This could have significant negative consequences for public health. The Respondent’s comments in this regard are irresponsible and careless in the current context and climate."
While Gill had argued her tweets were taken out of context, the college said that tweets by nature had “limited context.” Nor did the college accept that her tweets were made on a personal account.
“The respondent’s Twitter biography makes it very clear that she is a physician and also identifies her as the leader of a group of physicians, Concerned Ontario Doctors," it said.
“The respondent’s tweets are accessible by the public. Moreover, members of the public who are not healthcare professionals are likely to attribute significant weight and authority to the respondent’s tweets, given her profession.”