Three doctors testified Tuesday about 2020 interactions with Alberta’s former health minister that they found troubling and intimidating.
The Law Society of Alberta began a three-day hearing Tuesday into allegations that Tyler Shandro — Alberta’s current justice minister and former health minister — broke the lawyers’ code of conduct.
Three complaints against Shandro stem from his time as health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi told the hearing that he had posted a photo of Shandro on social media, with a caption related to privatizing health care.
Zaidi said the minister and his wife, Andrea Shandro, visited his Calgary home in March 2020 during fractious negotiations over fees between the government and the Alberta Medical Association.
A thought-bubble caption on the photo of Shandro said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.”
Andrea Shandro is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.
During opening statements, society counsel said that it is their understanding that Andrea and Tyler Shandro each had a 50 per cent share in the company, but that the minister’s share is in a blind trust – although they said proof of that has yet to be provided to the inquiry.
Under questioning, Zaidi said he went outside to meet Tyler Shandro, whom he described as being highly upset. He said Shandro demanded that he remove the post immediately because his family was being subjected to death threats.
“As I stepped out into the driveway I saw Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying, he was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said.
“They said, ‘You can’t do this to us. We’re getting death threats.’ I think I asked him, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said, ‘Delete your post.’
Zaidi said he complied and felt that Shandro was visiting in his capacity as a government minister and not as a private citizen.
Zaidi said he has been a member of the United Conservative Party, was an activist and had known Shandro for some time.
The doctor told the panel he put the matter behind him but was contacted by a CBC News journalist.
Under examination from Shandro’s lawyer, Grant Stapon, Zaidi said he didn’t plan the original post or his media interview as a strategy to discredit the minister during fee negotiations.
“I wanted to get attention that this is a conflict of interest, of a sitting minister of health, whose business would benefit in turn for what his actions were,” he said.
After the story emerged, Shandro issued a statement confirming the meeting took place.
“The attacks on someone I love and the mother of my children upset me deeply. As any husband would do, I responded passionately to defend my wife,” the minister wrote. Shandro’s statement was entered as evidence Tuesday.
In the same statement, Shandro said he visited Zaidi, whom he had known to be a decent and honorable man.
“When I saw that a longtime political acquaintance and neighbor had posted something to social media that was contributing to attacks against my wife, I went to speak to him and implore him to stop propagating this false information,” he said at the time.
Stapon said Tuesday the conversation with Zaidi was a private matter.
“Those communications should be judged on the basis of Minister Shandro’s actions as a non-lawyer, in his personal capacity,” he told the hearing.
Zaidi said he found the encounter unsettling.
“I don’t really get intimidated. This was a very intimidating situation.”
Private phone numbers
Another complaint Shandro faces relates to him calling two doctors after hours, on their personal phone numbers, which he obtained from Alberta Health Services.
Both doctors tried to attend a funding announcement on Feb.26, 2020, at the Red Deer Regional Hospital that Minister Shandro and Jason Kenney, then premier of Alberta, were attending. The doctors were hoping to speak to the politicians about the government’s moves to change physician fees along with other concerns.
Dr. Lauralee Dukeshire told the hearing that she asked the minister why he wouldn’t talk to doctors, and that as he got in an elevator, she caught his eye and called him a “liar and a cheat.”
Dr. John Julyan-Gudgeon says he was trying to read from a prepared statement, and that he followed the politicians into the elevator but was pushed out.
“My recollection is that I was pushed in the back out of the elevator,” he said.
Both doctors testified to being surprised when they later received calls from the minister of health on their personal cellphones.
The hearing heard from an Alberta Health Services privacy official who testified that she investigated and found AHS had breached privacy legislation by providing the private numbers to the minister.
Questioned by Stapon, AHS chief privacy officer Victoria Lane said that in reviewing the texts between AHS staff and the minister, the minister asked if they could help identify the two doctors because he’d like to speak to them – he did not ask for personnel numbers.
Although both doctors used the opportunity to talk about their political concerns with the minister, they also described feeling uneasy about how Shandro was able to reach them.
“This was someone using their power to gain personal information about you, letting you know that they have it,” Julyan-Gudgeon said.
Dukeshire said she was intimidated by the call.
“My first thought was how does he know who I am and how did he track me down,” Dukeshire said, adding that her first reaction to hearing from the minister was disbelief and a bit of fear.
The doctors also said the minister left the door open for them to contact him or his deputy minister in the future, and both did contact him at least once more by text.
The third allegation Shandro faces relates to him responding to a woman who emailed his wife, telling her he would alert protective services if she did it again.
The hearing is scheduled to continue until Thursday.