Eileen de Villa cut short after criticizing chief medical officer of health

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, taking leave of absence for medical treatment. The Toronto Star

OTTAWA — A leading Canadian infectious diseases expert was unexpectedly cut short of two weeks by a medical emergency after she was criticized by her own department and the federal government for speaking in a way that suggested her job was in jeopardy.

In the latest example of controversy over the work of Dr. Eileen de Villa, who has worked for the public health department of Canada’s largest city for more than a decade, she is set to leave office next week and is also under investigation from her own department and the Ministry of Public Health over the remarks she made to a local radio station a month ago.

The controversy flared again this week after the public health department announced that it was ordering de Villa to take a leave without pay after being accused of “unreasonably interfering” with the work of the chief medical officer of health, who oversees Canada’s more than 8,000 public health-care workers and other frontline clinicians. The Star reported on Sunday that de Villa, who did not return a request for comment Monday, had written a post on Twitter in support of the chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam.

She defended the chief medical officer, telling a Toronto radio show that she had made “serious mistakes” by speaking to the Star. Asked why she wouldn’t be fired, de Villa said she had agreed to an arrangement under which the Star and public health officials would have a chance to respond. She said she could not discuss her contract with the public health department because that would be inappropriate.

“That is why I am not at liberty to say,” she said Monday in an interview. “In good conscience, I have to respect my contract.”

Public health officials say de Villa was simply exercising her constitutional rights when she spoke on the radio about Tam’s contract.

“The chief medical officer is still the chief medical officer,” said Dr. David Williams, president of the Canadian Medical Association. “People can hold her to account.”

The Star found that the public health department had a case against de Villa before the public complaints process. It declined to say how it decided to sanction her

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