The Desperation of Incompetence
Right to Information request shows CMOH searching for justification for removing masks in schools long after stating the decision was based on science.
On April 27, 2022, members of PoP NB submitted a Right to Information request to the New Brunswick Department of Health asking for records referencing the “harmful impacts of masking,” since this concept had become a cornerstone of the justifications offered by New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health Jennifer Russell. The supplied records paint a picture of incompetence which undermines Russell’s narrative.
As detailed in our previous post, when asked for records referencing the criteria and justification for removing all mandated pandemic protections, the New Brunswick Department of Health offered a widely debunked study authored by three economists linked to far-right, libertarian think tanks founded by Big Oil and the Koch brothers.
The non-peer-reviewed working paper was being circulated within the Department of Health in early February 2022, at a time when the government’s narrative was switching from the pandemic being a serious issue to the pandemic being over.
"We are facing a critical situation and we need serious measures to address it," she said, urging everyone to take the situation seriously and be diligent about following the new restrictions.”
-Jennifer Russell, January 11, 2022
88 in hospital, 14 in ICU, 3 on ventilators, 386 Healthcare Workers isolating
“We are well equipped to move to the next phase of our pandemic journey.”
-Jennifer Russell, March 14, 2022
101 in hospital, 18 in ICU, 7 on ventilators 596 Healthcare Workers isolating
That alone should stand as evidence that the decision to abandon Public Health’s duties to the people of New Brunswick was an act of “policy based evidence making,” but now revelations from a second Right to Information request evoke a level of incompetence and mistruth which extirpates all notions of integrity within the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
A Narrative of Manufactured Authority
Throughout the first two years of the pandemic, the public had been provided data and became adept enough at its interpretation to understand and even accurately predict Public Health’s decisions. Educated thusly, they could dutifully reconcile the application of mitigation measures with the relative presence of the hazards.
When it was announced February 24, 2022 that mandated protections were to be removed on March 14, 2022, the media and the public began asking for answers as to why the data and the decisions were now becoming, to borrow a pandemic buzzword, decoupled.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health offered nothing in terms of data to support the recommendation she made to government, but insisted it was based on science.
In a handful of interviews after the February 24, 2022 final press conference, Russell took to sermonizing about the harms of masking and made vague citations of “studies” which she claimed showed disproportionate mental health impacts on children. The day mandated protections were removed, Russell was interviewed on CBC radio where she stated:
“This conversation has shifted very much to the negative impacts [of protections] and there is recent data that was published…on harms to children.”
At no time was a study provided or named and the most likely candidates do not draw the conclusions she held up as justification for Public Health’s about face.
In the short period of time between January crisis and March casualness, Public Health’s narrative moved from a message of social solidarity to an invocation of the “harms of masking.” Two years of quantifiable, verifiable data supported the prior, while the latter was seemingly predicated solely on the infallible authority of Public Health.
When Child and Youth Advocate, Kelly Lamrock investigated the lifting of mandated protections in New Brunswick schools, he wrote the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health to ask a series of questions, including a request for the specific information which led to the removal of mandated protections.
“What specific information, data, advice or studies from your office, to your knowledge, has led to the most recent decision by DEECD to reduce or remove COVID restrictions such as masking?”
On April 8, 2022, Russell replied to Lamrock and provided the “data” upon which her February 2022 recommendation to government to remove all mandated protections was based.
What we now know is the information she provided was cobbled together within the Department of Health four days prior to her response.
A Troubling Timeline of Haste and Desperation
Documents supplied to PoP NB include an April 4, 2022 email from Jennifer Russell to acting Executive Director of Mental Health Services Annie Pellerin, and others, asking for information specifically on negative impacts of mask wearing.
We should reasonably expect, based on Russell’s repeated previous claims, that her office was in possession of exactly this type of data in February, as she publicly stated that the recommendation to remove mandated masking at that time was a result of evidence regarding the “negative impacts” and “harms to children.”
Why now, when obliged by the Child and Youth Advocate to provide such evidence, would Russell be asking her colleagues to produce it?
Responses to Russell’s request are included in the document package. First from Lori (most likely Lori Heron, Senior Program Advisor with the COVID-19 Response Team), who offers available evidence which points to the contrary of the established narrative.
When contacted by Pellerin, Dr. Linda Hoyt, Medical Officer at Addiction and Mental Health Services, offered the evidence she had which also cast doubt on the idea that masking harms children.
On the same day Jennifer Russell was attempting in vain to produce the evidence she had widely claimed she’d had in her possession for almost two months, the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development was doing the same. Having just received a letter from New Brunswick paediatricians detailing the scientific consensus around mask efficacy and imploring the department to reinstate masks in schools, both departments were scrambling to cobble together a response which would exculpate them in light of their false claims of evidence-based recommendations.
As it happens, one of the responses to this request found its way through to Lori Heron who had been working on Russell’s request.
If this looks familiar it’s because Jennifer Russell copied and pasted it with minor edits into her response to Kelly Lamrock.
We’ve written extensively on Russell’s response here and here.
That Russell’s response to Lamrock was hastily strung together in a last minute attempt to prevent her deception from being detected, explains why the letter presents itself in such a disjointed, anecdotal and illogical tone, with citations of documents which didn’t actually exist.
The Contagion of Manufactured Authority
We have seen displayed throughout this third year of the pandemic, proclamations of anecdotal “harms” provided in attempts to frame confusing policy decisions as justifiable and imperative. Time and again we have been told these claims are based in science and time and again we see the claims fall apart under the slightest of scrutiny.
There is a design in this government’s approach. Their claim stated boldly from a position of implied authority need not be true if it provides a compelling answer to an urgent question. The intent, it seems, is not to answer the questions, but to stop the questions. The critical objective of such a methodology is safeguarding Public Health’s manufactured legitimacy, and in the pursuit of this objective, truth becomes irrelevant.
Implied legitimacy is rightfully frail. It cannot be a substitute for demonstrated competency, particularly when there is overwhelming evidence of incompetence and deceit.
Our Chief Medical Officer of Health advised her government to remove all mandated protections for children, underpinned by claims that protections harm them.
When asked to deliver the evidence on which she stated numerous times the advice was based, she had none, and endeavoured to produce it through inquiries to her colleagues.
When the evidence provided by her colleagues refuted the claims she had been making in public, she wilfully disregard them and clipped anecdotes from a DEECD email, some of which were soon shown to be fabricated.
This is now a matter of public record and… nothing happens. The authority of the office of Public Health endures, and it has seemingly become the incorruptible source of justification for other ministers looking to rationalize their inaction.
Since the removal of mandated protections, the minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Dominic Cardy, has vehemently refused to perform his legislated duties to protect New Brunswick’s children.
Cardy incessantly relinquishes all responsibility of his position to the manufactured authority of Public Health.
"Ultimately, it is up to the folks who go to university for many years and acquire skills and competencies that I do not have to provide us with recommendations."
Now that we know the content of that authority, now that we know the illegitimacy of Public Health’s claims, what action will be taken in the interest of New Brunswick’s children and their caregivers?
We should comfortably expect that decisions impacting the health of the province’s children would be made with competence and compassion. This comfort is denied us and each additional display of indifference, disregard, and blatant corruption clarifies the fact that competence and compassion was never there.
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Based on media reporting at that time (Mar-Apr 2022), I sensed that Cardy and Russell were operating in the same way that "circular reasoning" does: he absolved himself of authority by passing the buck to her (Public Health), while she obfuscated--using her implied "authority" to pass the buck to the public. I was gobsmacked! It struck me that they were playing a game of 'hot potato' without the music (you know, the game in which the music stops at some point, so the potato lands in *someone's* lap). Premier Higgs's recent public performance--fiddling with the Health Authorities--suggests that some sort of orchestration has been occurring, but these "authorities" are hoping that the Covid potato, having cooled off considerably, won't sprout if kept in the dark, along with the NB public.