Dr. Eileen de Villa, public health chief for Toronto, has taken a leave of absence to receive medical treatment, the agency announced Friday.
A statement from the city’s public health network said Ms. de Villa would take a leave of absence, effective Oct. 6, 2018 until further notice.
The agency explained that Ms. de Villa would receive medical treatment following recent symptoms in addition to her annual exam on Sept. 18 that led to her appointment for a routine re-test.
A spokesperson for Ms. de Villa declined comment on how long the leave of absence would last and could not confirm whether she would return to work immediately.
“As this is a personal matter, we’re not going to be commenting any further,” said Rich Cassidy, spokesperson for the Toronto Public Health Agency.
Ontario’s public health agency also confirmed on Twitter that Ms. de Villa was taking leave, but did not confirm the initial report.
Dr. Allan Epstein, a public health expert at the University of Toronto, told the Canadian Press Ms. de Villa “has raised a number of flags when she’s chosen to raise them — issues of priority public health things that wouldn’t happen if she wasn’t here.”
Dr. Epstein explained that Ms. de Villa’s work on obesity is not being done in an isolation unit, but with population members, making her comments that she receives extra “protection.”
“That matters and that’s why that needs to be looked at,” Dr. Epstein said.
According to the Globe and Mail, Ms. de Villa became a spokesperson for the city in January of 2018, five months after her appointment.
During her time as chief of public health, Ms. de Villa was behind some controversial announcements.
In February, she announced her city-wide opioid plan, which included the introduction of naloxone into public health services, counseling, and added surveillance, first responders, call-outs, naloxone outlets, wider distribution of naloxone kits, mobile crisis resource hubs, and other measures.
Dr. Epstein explained at the time that Toronto is one of few Canadian cities with its own public health agency, with the Toronto Public Health Agency (TPHA) operating with an “independence” relationship with the province.
“When you go to a department store or to other places you feel like you’re about human being, but when you go to city hall they’re not really about anything else, so you expect to be treated like an equal to everybody,” Dr. Epstein said in February.
Dr. de Villa also joined a lawsuit against Walmart for its plastic bags, winning for Toronto in June.
After her appointment, Ms. de Villa also faced criticism on Twitter, after a video surfaced of her talking about ice chips in the subway.
“They’re like a luxury and not something you can really enjoy in the train environment, but it’s a treat,” Ms. de Villa said in the video, adding that “it’s like a treat in every cup” and described it as a “free little treat.”
According to the Globe and Mail, she also resigned as chair of the Toronto Public Health Advisory Council in April, citing “continued unproductive conversations.”
Ms. de Villa previously worked as the lead of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s communicable disease prevention and control department in Calgary and B.C.
Ms. de Villa earned her Ph.D. from the University of Calgary, and has previously held positions at the World Health Organization in Geneva, the Canadian Centre for Disease Control in Winnipeg, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Ottawa, the Vancouver-based Centre for Disease Control, and the University of Montreal.