A Manitoba physician in the Prairie Mountain Health region is causing a stir in the medical community after criticizing government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis on social media, including the mandatory use of masks.

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A Manitoba physician in the Prairie Mountain Health region is causing a stir in the medical community after criticizing government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis on social media, including the mandatory use of masks.

Dr. Blair Hrabarchuk, an internal medicine physician who practices in Dauphin, says the use of masks does not help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. In a number of posts on his Facebook page, Hrabarchuk — who refers to himself as a doctor in the posts — makes a number of controversial claims, including allegations that government’s response to the pandemic is an effort to radically alter society.

Dr. Blair Hrabarchuk, an internal medicine physician who practices in Dauphin, makes a number of controversial claims on Facebook, including allegations that government’s response to the pandemic is an effort to radically alter society. (Facebook photo)

Dr. Blair Hrabarchuk, an internal medicine physician who practices in Dauphin, makes a number of controversial claims on Facebook, including allegations that government’s response to the pandemic is an effort to radically alter society. (Facebook photo)

"This is not about a virus," wrote Hrabarchuk in an Aug. 18 post. "It's never been about a virus. We are experiencing the first steps toward creating a totalitarian society."

Hrabarchuk also posted links to several YouTube videos that promote conspiracy theories, including some that claim masks do not help reduce the transmission of viruses. One of those videos has since been fact-checked by Facebook and labelled "false information."

"Wearing a mask is up to the individual and should not be socially forced on anyone... violation of human rights," wrote Hrabarchuk, who practises in the Prairie Mountain Health region, where masks are now mandatory in indoor public places. The public doesn’t understand the "true science" behind masks and shouldn’t be forced to wear them "given that masks don’t stop transmission," he said.

"Joe Public listens to mainstream media and the heads of three-letter health agencies that are completely corrupted and promoting ‘science’ in a tainted and biased manner," wrote Hrabarchuk. "Even the major medical journals are not something to be trusted."

Hrabarchuk, who also works at the Dauphin Regional Health Centre, says he no longer trusts reputable medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of American Medical Association. Mainstream media is not reporting the "truth" about the pandemic, he wrote, adding if they did, people would see "how small this ‘crisis’ really is."

"The powers that be want to control us with fear," wrote Hrabarchuk. "I for one WILL NOT BE CONTROLLED WITH FEAR!!!"

Dr. Alan Drummond, co-chair of public affairs for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, says while people are entitled to their opinions on how governments respond to the pandemic, physicians have a responsibility to support public health orders. He fears some may be swayed by Hrabarchuk’s claims and ignore public health advice. Many of Hrabarchuk’s followers on Facebook praise him for speaking out.

In August, Hrabarchuk shared a post that Facebook fact-checkers flagged as false information about the pandemic.  (Facebook)

In August, Hrabarchuk shared a post that Facebook fact-checkers flagged as false information about the pandemic. (Facebook)

"Any of your writing, any of your postings, any of your thoughts, have the potential to be taken very seriously if you’re a physician," said Drummond, who works as a family doctor and an emergency room physician in Perth, Ont. "You need to be very careful what you say because it may impact or harm others if you influence somebody contrary to what public health measures dictate."

While there is a healthy debate around the use of masks, including how they should be used, there is an abundance of medical evidence that shows face coverings help reduce the spread of the virus, said Drummond.

"A physician would, I think, find himself open to both criticism and possible sanction by the regulatory authorities should his advice not reflect the best medical evidence available to us," said Drummond.

Hrabarchuk did not return phone calls from the Free Press. He said in several posts he’s prepared to accept whatever consequences he may face for speaking out.

Prairie Mountain Health CEO Penny Gilson said in a statement that all health facilities in the region are following public health orders, including the mandatory use of masks.

“This is not about a virus,” wrote Hrabarchuk in an Aug. 18 post. “It's never been about a virus. We are experiencing the first steps toward creating a totalitarian society.”

“This is not about a virus,” wrote Hrabarchuk in an Aug. 18 post. “It's never been about a virus. We are experiencing the first steps toward creating a totalitarian society.”

"These statements — made by an individual — on social media do not reflect the position of the (regional health authority), nor are they endorsed by the health region," said Gilson.

The RHA did not reply when asked if the health authority will request the posts be removed.

The College of Physician and Surgeons of Manitoba had no immediate comment. An official at the college said they will review the matter.

Dr. Joel Kettner, who served as Manitoba’s chief public health officer during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, says much of what Hrabarchuk is saying is "problematic." However, there is room for a healthy dialogue around government’s response to the pandemic, including mask use.

"I am not suggesting in any way that people not follow the advice or the orders of public health officials," said Kettner, now an associate professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. "But these are controversial issues — they’re hotly debated among scientists and experts."

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
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Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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