Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column about COVID-19, says her only aim was to ‘promote discourse’

Toronto Public Health is reviewing its policy on COVID-19, after a Sun columnist posted an opinion piece critical of the agency’s handling of the pandemic. A spokesperson for the agency says that the paper’s opinion piece did not get a public response.

On March 23, a Sun columnist described as “mildly appalling” the fact that Toronto Public Health didn’t consider the potential transmission of COVID-19 in the city’s bars and restaurants, but “didn’t bother to check,” whether the restaurants were complying with provincial and federal regulations on serving potentially infectious people, or if their staff were compliant with social-distancing requirements.

The newspaper’s editorialized response, which didn’t mention Toronto Public Health by name, led to widespread condemnation on social media. A response from the Toronto Public Health Centre and its president, Dr. Eileen de Villa, prompted some backlash on Twitter, too.

In an email interview, de Villa says that her only aim was to “promote discourse.”

“I was doing my social media to promote the fact that TPH is doing things in collaboration with our partners and the city to keep people safe, and as with everything we do, we take it into consideration,” de Villa says.

It’s not unusual that someone who hasn’t been involved in the public health system would be asked for advice on policy and strategy. The Toronto Star asked public health experts about whether an agency like Toronto Public Health should be subject to criticism — and whether there’s a role for criticism itself. Here’s what they said.

Donna DiZinno, University of Ottawa

“This was an editorial opinion piece, and that was what we were commenting on. People are very quick to criticize public health agencies, but usually they do it in a very measured fashion.

Criticism, as such, is more often directed to the person making the criticism, so sometimes it is inappropriate. And to be clear, public health does not need to justify its actions;

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