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Toronto lawyer Joel Etiënne claims client endured a “public lynching” due to race

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Toronto Lawyer Joel Etienne (pictured here) successfully defended Dr. Jean Robert Ngola, who was blamed for being the catalyst for a COVID-19 outbreak in Campbellton, NB | Photo: YouTube screengrab

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In a flash, Dr. Jean Robert Ngola’s name and home address were spread across social media. His reputation was marred publicly; he feared walking outside, having been threatened with physical harm.

It’s what happened in the wake of New Brunswick premier Blaine  Higgs’s press conference on May 27. Higgs singularly blamed an “irresponsible” medical health professional for the further spread of COVID-19 in the Campbellton, NB community, and intimated criminal charges would be laid. It was enough for many to believe it was an implicit jibe at Ngola.

Ngola had returned to Campbellton from Quebec, to pick up his four-year-old daughter, because her mother needed to attend an overseas funeral. He had subsequently tested positive for COVID-19; but within a few hours of the test, the pile-on began, both from the government, and from online channels.

“Nearly right away, he is ‘outed’ on social media. He is threatened on social media. His face, his name, his address,” asserted Joel Etienne, the Toronto lawyer representing the case.

“What do you do in a situation like that? His moral integrity is threatened. His career, his family, his work – all threatened.” Ngola was summarily suspended by the health department, without pay or due process; the RCMP was called in to launch a probe.

Etienne says his office hired a 35-year retired RCMP veteran investigator, former lead investigator in the Walkerton Commission, and “did the work that the province was supposed to do.”

“Our investigator, in aid with pandemic experts, did the contact tracing, and found Ngola was not patient zero, and the province lied, insofar as we also discovered that there were almost 100 other health care workers coming in and out of the province without self-quarantine. Worse, there were other doctors that were sick with COVID-19 at the same time,” said Etienne, who describes Ngola’s situation as a “public lynching.”

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Etienne added that as a black doctor originally from Congo, Ngola was “scapegoated” and “unfairly targeted” in a way that no other medical professional had experienced. “He was the only person singled by the authorities.”

“Not to be pollyannish, but this is the kind of discussion on race we’re having now in North America,” noted Etienne, a Thornhill-based Jew of colour.

Despite the exculpatory evidence clearing his name, the doctor was forced to move to Quebec. In New Brunswick, he feared leaving his own home – no quick strolls with his daughter, nor a simple trip to the grocery store. The threats to his safety in New Brunswick were such that he has received police protection, according to a Toronto Star report.

Dr. Jean Robert Ngola had to uproot his life (again) in Canada even after being vindicated when he was blamed for a COVID-19 outbreak in Campbellton, NB | Photo supplied

Long before the legal battle, Ngola faced several other serious life-altering battles – including the genocide in his native Congo. Eventually, he found protection in Belgium, but despite being trained as an emergency care doctor, he was required to invest much time to re-qualify. Ultimately, however, the only work he could come by were orderly duties. He made his way to Canada to start fresh, and, after earning his third medical accreditation, he planted roots in Campbellton, where for the past seven years, he ran a family practice in the town with over 2,000 patients.

The Toronto Star characterized his journey as “Canada’s archetypal immigrant success story.”

These accounts of marginalization and discrimination hit close to Etienne’s own home: his late father, a Haitian political exile, faced persecution in his homeland before making his way to the safety of Canadian shores.

“My father made me promise, when I got my law degree, that I’d use it in a very Jewish way, to help the widows and the orphans. And this is what has been truly fulfilling,” said Etienne, co-founder of EME Professional Corp., and in the legal field for more than two decades. “So one day, I could be helping private investors acquire a bundle of ten hotels; another day, I could be helping someone who has no means, but a worthy cause.”

Etienne has demanded that New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs (pictured here) apologize to his client, Dr. Jean Robert Ngola, for singularly blaming him for the further spread of COVID-19 in the Campbellton community | Photo: Twitter

Ngola is the latest in a slew of wronged individuals Etienne has defended successfully – his one-time immigration practice, which has morphed over the years into a full-service practice, has supported and helped thousands of families come and stay in Canada.

Etienne, while holding down his full-time job, continued in other ways his long-standing efforts to call attention to immigrant causes. He swiftly stepped up last fall to become co-creator, and executive producer of the Risings Suns, Canada’s first television English drama series featuring, and starring, a majority of a racial-minority cast. The first season was broadcast on Omni TV. 

“The purpose was to work towards bringing new diversity to television,” Etienne said, “and to find a new way to tell new immigrant stories in a dramatic television setting.” Rising Suns is the story of Chinese newcomers in Canada, caught between political strife in their homeland, and a complicated business and family dynamic in their new adopted home.

Additionally, Claws of the Red Dragon, a recent Canadian Screen Award-nominated film he co-produced, that received much media attention, also highlighted a culturally-diverse cast. Claws tells the story of the extradition arrest of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of 5G tech company Huawei.

Meanwhile, though the Campbellton doctor appears to now be out of legal peril, the wounds remain rather raw: Etienne and Ngola have together made two public calls for apologies from Premier Higgs, both unanswered as of press time.

What this, and the COVID-19 crisis has taught Etienne, is that so many vulnerable people are being hit so hard, in a myriad of ways, and now especially is the time to lend a hand to the less fortunate.

“I would just say you don’t need to be a lawyer to lend a hand,” said Etienne.

“Yes, we’re all busy with family and work, and giving of our time when we can. But during COVID-19, I would encourage everyone to put in just a little bit more for humanity, at a time when humanity needs it the most.”

Dave Gordon is the managing editor of TheJ.ca. His work has appeared in more than a hundred media around the world, including all of the Toronto dailies, BBC, Washington Times, and UK Guardian.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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