Calgary doctor says family fears for safety after confrontation with Health Minister Tyler Shandro

A Calgary physician who went public last week with allegations that Health Minister Tyler Shandro berated him at his home over a social media post says he and his family no longer feel safe after he said Premier Jason Kenney effectively condoned Shandro’s behaviour.

“I [don’t] play basketball with my children outside. I am staying indoors because I fear for my safety and security,” Dr. Mukarram Zaidi said in an interview with CBC News Monday. 

“My wife is upset that my activism has come to my house now, and it is not pleasant because it threatens the safety and security of the family,” he said.  

On Friday, CBC News revealed Shandro and his wife Andrea — who live in the same neighbourhood — came to Zaidi’s house on the evening of Saturday, March 21, and berated him on his driveway, demanding he take down a Facebook meme he had reposted.

The meme referenced an alleged conflict of interest involving Shandro, his wife, and Vital Partners, a supplementary health benefits company of which they are part-owners. 

Zaidi said that to resolve the confrontation, he acceded to a demand from Shandro to delete the post. The incident took place within sight and earshot of Zaidi’s wife and three children, the doctor said.

After CBC News reported Zaidi’s allegations, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called for Shandro’s resignation, saying he had shown a profound lapse in judgment. 

“No Albertan deserves to be threatened at their home in front of their families by a government MLA and the minister overseeing their profession,” Notley said.

Kenney brushes aside calls for Shandro resignation

But later that same day, Kenney brushed aside the call for Shandro’s dismissal, saying he thought “any Albertan would understand that a husband or wife will get passionate when their spouse is being attacked or even threatened and certainly defamed.”

“These words are strong and what the premier has done is a huge disservice, and mischaracterizes the meme and attacks my integrity to protect his minister,” Zaidi said.

Zaidi said the mischaracterization by Kenney resulted in a posting on a popular doctor rating website that said: “Totally disgusted with this doctor as he chose to bully and defame the wife of a local politician. What kind of a man does that? Time to close the clinic.”

Opposition leader Rachel Notley is calling for Jason Kenney to fire Alberta’s health minister after Tyler Shandro allegedly berated a Calgary doctor at this home — but Kenney is standing by Shandro. 1:05
Another person emailed Zaidi at his clinic and told him that although what Shandro had done was wrong, he should apologize to the minister for posting the meme.

Kenney, at a Friday news conference, also said he understood that Shandro had apologized and as far as he was concerned that ended the matter. 

But Zaidi said Shandro has not apologized, and he said Kenney has effectively condoned Shandro’s behaviour, which sends a troubling message to the public. 

“To say the least, [Kenney] should have apologized,” Zaidi said. “Nobody from the [UCP] caucus, MLAs, ministers, PR office has apologized. What they have done is normalized this behaviour.”

Kenney did not respond to an interview request from CBC News. Instead, a press secretary provided an emailed single-sentence response: “The premier condemns threats to any and all Albertans.”

Ethics commissioner finds no conflict of interest

The Facebook meme the doctor reposted did not contain a threat against Shandro or his wife. Shandro’s press secretary acknowledged the minister visited Zaidi at his house, but said the minister’s wife had received “a number of threatening emails and phone calls at her place of work,” and that social media posts like the one Zaidi shared were contributing to those attacks. The minister’s press secretary however, declined requests from CBC News to provide copies of the threatening emails and calls apparently received by Shandro’s wife.

Earlier this month, the UCP government released a letter from Alberta’s ethics commissioner that said Shandro is not a director of the health benefits company, had transferred his shares to a blind trust, and is in compliance with the province’s Conflicts of Interest Act.

Zaidi said he reposted a meme that had been posted many times by other doctors. The meme is a photo of Shandro with the bubble caption, “So every Albertan I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We will be rich!”

The meme, Zaidi said, is meant to identify the belief by doctors that the UCP government has an agenda to “destroy” publicly funded primary healthcare by sharply reducing the fee-for-service pay that doctors receive. 

A spokesperson for Tyler Shandro confirmed the health minister and his wife went to the home of a Calgary doctor to talk to him about a meme posted on Facebook (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

He said doctors believe Shandro and the government want more private health care and health-insurance brokerage companies, like the one partially owned by the Shandros, would benefit from this fundamental change.

“We need to run a small business,” Zaidi said, after listing numerous expenses primary clinics must bear from the patient fees paid by the government. “With the fee codes being proposed by this government, family physicians are leaving the province, clinics will close and that is happening right now.”

The government has denied the allegation, also made by unions and the opposition, that it secretly wants to privatize healthcare in Alberta.

‘Inappropriate’ email exchanges with private citizens

As previously reported, CBC News also obtained email exchanges between Shandro and two private citizens in which he threatened to send the legislature’s protection services after one woman and called another person “crazy.”

The emails from the citizens contained no threats against either Shandro or his wife, and the minister has no authority to direct protective services to contact people.

On Monday, Zaidi he will “have to think twice” about speaking out publicly in the future “because my advocacy is affecting my family. But I will hopefully still continue.”

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@charlesrusnell @jennierussell