Vaccine-doubting doctor to pay $1M and her libel suit quashed


Gill accused her detractors of being a ‘pack of hyenas’ bent on destroying her reputation, but it proved to be a very expensive counter-attack

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When a host of doctors, academics and journalists criticized her COVID vaccine-doubting, anti-lockdown views, Dr. Kulvinder Kaur Gill struck back, filing a $12-million libel suit against them.

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Amongst other charges, she accused her detractors of being a “pack of hyenas” bent on destroying her reputation. It has proven to be a very expensive counter-attack.

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A judge this week ordered the pediatrician in Brampton, west of Toronto, to pay the defendants as much as $1.1 million in legal costs after her lawsuit was struck down earlier this year as a potential curb on important public debate.

Part of the costs were assigned to a fellow plaintiff, Dr. Ashvinder Kaur Lambda, who sued only two of the 23 defendants, but Gill is on the hook for the bulk of the hefty award.

Justice Elizabeth Stewart said the cost sum was appropriate, noting that the damages sought by the two physicians in their suit was “a considerable sum by any calculation and of understandably great concern” to the people they sued.

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“Although the individual … plaintiffs are not substantial corporations or institutions, they are educated persons who were represented by counsel throughout,” she added.

Jeff Saikaley​, Gill’s lawyer, said neither he nor his client would comment as she is appealing both this week’s decision on costs, and the ruling in February that dismissed the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the doctor faces more legal trouble at Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After cautioning Gill last year over some of her COVID statements, the regulator ordered her earlier this month to appear on similar charges before a discipline tribunala sort of trial where a guilty verdict could lead to revocation of her licence.

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Dr. Terry Polevoy, a retired Waterloo, Ont., family physician and crusader against bogus health-care products and practices, said Wednesday he welcomed the cost ruling.

Unlike some of the defendants, Polevoy had to pay his lawyer out of pocket because he’s no longer practicing, with bills already coming to over $51,000.

“It’s a lot of stress, a lot of pent-up frustration at the legal system,” he said.

Another person familiar with the file, who asked not to be named because it’s before the courts, said it was not so much one suit as 23 different ones still into a single case, with separate rolled against each defendant.

“You have to mount a very serious defense,” said the person. “While it’s an unprecedented cost award, it’s also an unprecedented lawsuit.”

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The Canadian Medical Protective Association — which covers most professionally related legal costs for doctors — had initially refused to underwrite the expense of defending the suit for any of the physicians, but relented after an appeal to its board, said the source.

Gill filed her lawsuit in December 2020, accusing doctors, a former president of the Ontario Medical Association, university professors, media outlets and newspaper journalists of libelling her. Most of the remarks she singled out were comments on Twitter responding to her rejection of widely accepted science around COVID-19.

Among other things, Gill said a vaccine was not needed against the virus, that most people had natural immunity to COVID and there was no scientific rationale for keeping people at home to short-circuit its spread.

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But the defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion, a legal manoeuvre designed to put a stop early on to lawsuits that curb discussion in the public interest.

Justice Stewart ruled in their favor, saying that if the suit went ahead “its chilling effects would have an impact well beyond the parties to this case,” deterring experts and the media from calling out potential misinformation. “Dr. Gill herself is the most obvious cause of damage to her reputation,” the judge added.

In her decision this week, she rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the costs award was excessive because the various lawyers essentially duplicated each other’s work. Every person named in the suit had to argue the case based on separate facts, and the issues were of “great importance” to them, said the judge.

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Gill was originally represented by Rocco Galati, the firebrand Toronto lawyer who has called public-health measures to combat the virus a “vicious fraud” and protective face coverings “slave-trade masks.”

But against the wishes of clients Gill and Lamda, an Ontario judge allowed him to withdraw from the case in May, saying “he had a lengthy hospitalization and was in a coma, from which he is still recovering,” a court order posted by the CanuckLaw.ca blog indicates. In the meantime, Galati had made “superficial” submissions to the judge on the legal-costs issue without the consent of his clients, Saikaley said in a July letter to Stewart.

As the larger case rolls on, Gill is also suing University of Ottawa health law professor Amir Attaran for $7 million over Tweets in which he called her an idiot, among other comments.

Attaran said Wednesday he has also filed a SLAPP motion, but has been holding off to see if the doctor would settle the case. He said he wants her to apologize for suing and admit she was wrong about COVID, but so far Gill has declined to do so.

“She now has 1.1 million reasons to reconsider her position,” said Attaran. “We are prepared to go to court.”

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