Ontario county's top doctor sues Queen's University over 'malicious' comments about his pandemic views
Dr. Matthew Strauss — a controversial, acting med‐ ical officer of health in southern Ontario — is su‐ ing Queen's University and the head of its medicine department for over $600,000, saying he had no choice but to resign from his university position be‐ cause of "malicious, aggres‐ sive, condescending and defamatory statements" made about him.
The statement of claim, filed Oct. 20, states Dr. Stephen Archer, Strauss's di‐ rect supervisor and the head of the medicine department at Queen's in Kingston, Ont., constantly berated Strauss over his public criticism of COVID-19 public health mea‐ sures, including lockdowns.
None of the claims have been proven in court and no statement of defence has been filed.
Queen's University told CBC Hamilton it could not comment on the case and Archer didn't respond to re‐ quests for comment. Strauss declined to speak on the record about the statement of claim.
Strauss, the acting medical officer of health for Haldimand and Norfolk counties, has faced criticism for his public comments be‐ fore.
He previously said on so‐ cial media he'd sooner give his children COVID-19 over a Happy Meal, and when he was initially brought on as acting medical officer of health in September 2021, the Ontario Liberals called on the health minister to veto his hir‐ ing.
Earlier this year, he wrote op-eds to explain his critique of masking and vaccine man‐ dates.
'Be a physician not a publicist'
Strauss worked at Queen's as an assistant professor of medicine from July 2019 to November 2021. He also held privileges as a general internal medicine physician and an in‐ tensive care unit (ICU) special‐ ist at Kingston General Hospi‐ tal, according to the state‐ ment of claim.
He previously worked as an assistant clinical professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and as the medical director of critical care at Guelph General Hospital.
The claim says Archer criti‐ cized Strauss between August and October 2020 for what Strauss said on social media and in news articles.
"The tone and content of Dr. Archer's communications caused Dr. Strauss to become upset and anxious," reads the claim.
Strauss went on leave from his PhD program in Oc‐ tober, according to the claim, but it isn't clear when he re‐ turned.
He faced more criticism between December and Feb‐ ruary, according to the claim.
"Your professed love of freedom of expression is more self-centred than in ser‐ vice of our patients or trainees," reads an email from Archer to Strauss and five others on Dec. 23, 2020, ac‐ cording to the statement of claim.
"You were hired to be a physician not a publicist."
The claim says that despite the criticism, Strauss had an "entirely positive" annual per‐ formance review in March 2021.
About a month later, the claim states, Archer and oth‐ ers at Queen's sent corre‐ spondence on April 22, 2021, that said Strauss's public comments are "dangerous and misleading," and his be‐ haviour "threatens to endan‐ ger patients."
It also said he was "irre‐ sponsibly" promoting people to violate public health mea‐ sures while also "seeding mis‐ trust for public health institu‐ tions."
Strauss endured 'signifi‐ cant stress'
"Dr. Archer further threat‐ ened Dr. Strauss, noting his medical licence could be in jeopardy and his hospital privileges could be revoked if he continued expressing him‐ self on matters of significant public interest regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and his positions on lockdowns and other restrictions."
The claim states that when Strauss suggested the univer‐ sity wasn't acting in good faith toward him, Archer told Strauss his contract wouldn't be renewed, leading Strauss to have no choice but to leave the institution.
Strauss's claim says the defamatory comments dam‐ aged his relationships, his em‐ ployment prospects and his ability to earn more money.
He said it also caused him "significant stress, anxiety, emotional pain and suffering."
Strauss resigned from the university on Nov. 19, 2021, despite the fact his contract wasn't set to end until June 30, 2022, according to the claim.
Along with asking for at least $600,000 — which in‐ cludes a combination of gen‐ eral, moral and punitive dam‐ ages — the claim asks Queen's for lost wages and benefits.
The claim also requests the defendants remove any defamatory words about Strauss from all media in their control and don't publish any other defamatory words about him.