Wrongly accused physician ‘fairly relieved that it is over,’ says lawyer

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Wrongly accused doctor 'quite relieved that it's over,' says lawyer

Patrick Atherton said it appears that one of the Halifax Police Department has sent the wrong email address for the suspect

HALIFAX – In a bizarre false identity case, Halifax police on Tuesday accused undisclosed “partner” agencies of providing inaccurate information that led to the arrest of a local doctor who was falsely accused of possessing child pornography.

“(Police) acted quickly and in good faith as soon as the new information became available,” Halifax Regional Police said in a statement Tuesday. “We recognize and regret the deeply negative effects of an unfortunate mistake of this nature.”

Police said they received information from two agencies – one Canadian and one American – before the Internet Child Exploitation Team issued a search warrant on December 2nd.

Const. John MacLeod, a spokesman for the Halifax police force, declined to name the authorities or the defendants.

Police confirmed that a man had been arrested in the Halifax area but were not officially charged. The suspect was released because he had undertaken to comply with certain conditions.

On January 22, one of the authorities involved in the case alerted Halifax investigators that a mistake had been made, although details were not released on Tuesday.

The Nova Scotia governing body for doctors confirmed that the police had confirmed Dr. David Barnett, a general practitioner who works in Cole Harbor, a suburb east of Halifax, was wrongly accused. Barnett could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Gus Grant, the college’s CEO, said the Crown confirmed Monday that police had mistaken Barnett for someone with a similar name and email address in Ohio who was arrested. The charges against Barnett were dismissed in Halifax provincial court on Monday, he said.

Patrick Atherton, the attorney representing Barnett, said it appears that one of the police departments sent the Halifax Police Department the wrong email address for the suspect.

“They either did not include digits in the email or transposed them and ended up searching the wrong apartment and arresting the wrong person,” Patrick Atherton said in an interview Tuesday.

“(Barnett) is quite relieved that it’s over. It’s a terrible shock to be charged with such things.”

Atherton, a Halifax-based attorney-at-law, said if Barnett decides to take further legal action, another attorney with expertise in the field would be taking the case.

Grant, who is also the college’s registrar, said there was no evidence linking the doctor to the alleged crime.

Upon learning of the mix-up, the college immediately convened a committee to lift a temporary suspension of Barnett’s medical license in early December.

“It’s a remarkably troubling story,” Grant said in an interview on Tuesday.

“I am terribly sorry this happened to Dr. Barnett. As a college we will do all we can to restore his good name in business and in the public eye.”

Grant stressed that the college had not taken any disciplinary action against Barnett. The suspension was required to ensure the safety of the public and the integrity of the medical profession during an investigation, but the measure will not be included on the college’s records, he said.

“Dr. Barnett was a victim of a false identity,” said Grant. “His name is perfectly clear as it should be.”

The Nova Scotia Attorney’s Office referred all questions to the Halifax Police Department.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 26, 2021.

Michael MacDonald, the Canadian press