A retired but still registered doctor who was previously suspended from practising after complaints were made he was spreading Covid-19 and vaccine falsehoods is now defending the allegations before a health tribunal.
Dr Peter Canaday, a former radiologist with the Taranaki District Health Board, is facing a charge of professional misconduct relating to a radio interview and two online presentations he gave in 2021 on the pandemic and the country’s vaccine rollout.
On Monday, a five-day hearing before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal began in New Plymouth to hear the charge, brought by a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) appointed by the Medical Council of New Zealand.
It was heard that in July 2021, Canaday appeared on a community radio station in Raglan. That same month, he featured in an online presentation entitled Courageous Convos: Dr Peter Canaday, and the following month in another named Covid-19 and the Pfizer vaccine: Fact or Fantasy?
In both, which were uploaded to the website of group Voices For Freedom, he made statements about matters concerning Covid-19 and the vaccine.
Among his comments, the tribunal’s charge sheet stated Canaday said he was a respiratory physician who had treated many Covid-19 patients.
He overstated the number of confirmed deaths linked to the Pfizer vaccine in New Zealand, made recommendations for other “effective” Covid-19 preventative measures, and told people he was providing the “full story”, according to the charge.
It also stated Canaday told viewers there was a link between the vaccine and sterility, miscarriages, and deaths, and other Covid-19 treatments had been suppressed in favour of the Pfizer vaccine, which he described as an “experimental biological agent”.
Canaday, who retired in 2021 but still carries a practising certificate, was one of the first doctors to be suspended for Covid-19 misinformation in New Zealand.
Complaints were laid against him following the interview and presentations and the Medical Council then suspended him from practising on an interim basis, pending the outcome of the PCC investigation.
While Canaday successfully appealed to the District Court against the decision to suspend him, he is now before the tribunal after the PCC determined a disciplinary charge would be brought against him.
At the hearing, lawyer Hayden Wilson for the PCC, told the tribunal there was no dispute that Canaday had made the statements.
What was in dispute was whether the statements departed from the standards expected of a medical practitioner and, if they did, whether they warranted sanction.
Wilson submitted the statements made by Canaday were inaccurate, had the potential to mislead the public and did warrant disciplinary action.
“The comments were disparaging or they amounted to unprofessional criticisms of other health professionals and they had the potential to encourage criticisms of those health practitioners.”
Canaday’s statements discredited the medical profession, Wilson submitted.
“His conduct breached his professional obligations because he used his credentials as a medical practitioner to lend weight to statements that were incorrect, misleading or had the potential to mislead.”
Wilson called witness associate professor Dr Mark Thomas, an infectious diseases physician, to give his expert view on Canaday’s statements.
At the conclusion of his statement, Thomas said doctors had a “special responsibility” to avoid making statements that were beyond their areas of expertise.
“In my opinion, doctors who make statements that expressly contradict the advice provided by local panels of experts, especially when this advice is supported by extensive published evidence and similar panels and experts in other nations, may, unfortunately, lead patients to make decisions that are deleterious for the health of themselves or their close contacts.”
He believed Canaday’s statements may have done just that.
“And I think he was wrong for making those statements.”
Thomas said many people had been misinformed about the vaccine by people who had no expert knowledge and who held various views based on conspiracy theories.
He believed the information provided by the country’s various medical bodies on the vaccine has been “as close to the truth as could be achieved...”
While the pandemic response varied from country to country, Thomas maintained New Zealand’s overall response was “excellent”.
Under cross-examination by Canaday’s lawyer Matthew McClelland, KC, Thomas was asked what colleges and organisations he was a member of, and whether he belonged to Voices For Freedom.
When Thomas’ response was to laugh at the question, McClelland asked why.
“I think it’s a ridiculous question,” he said before adding: “Because the opinions expressed [by the group]... they are the exact antithesis of what I believe in”.
What he believed in, Thomas explained, was that medical treatment and advice were best administered by people “who knew what they are talking about” rather than people guided by “Trump-influenced lies and fantasy”.
McClelland suggested that Thomas’ support of the Ministry of Health, the Medical Council and how the government handled the pandemic had influenced how he viewed Voices For Freedom and Canaday’s statements.
Thomas said “lots of things” influenced his view of the group, and that his expert statement had kept to published facts.
The hearing, before a five-member panel, continues on Tuesday.