AHS can deny sponsorship of foreign doctors if need isn’t proven, court says

Alberta Health Services has successfully defended its ability to refuse sponsorship requests for foreign-trained physicians if it feels there is not a community need.

In a July 31 decision, Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Michael Lema ruled in favour of AHS in a case involving a foreign-trained doctor recruited by two High Prairie physicians in the spring of 2016.

Dr. Tobby Anizoba, an Nigerian-trained physician practising in South Africa, was recruited by Dr. Pamela Edwards and Dr. Robert Laughlin to work at their medical clinic in High Prairie, 370 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

Anizoba required extra training to work in Alberta, so Laughlin and Edwards asked AHS to sponsor a practice-readiness assessment for him.

Since 2015, AHS has had sole sponsoring authority for foreign-trained physicians, meaning that any foreign-trained doctors it sponsors can be directed to relocate to communities AHS identifies as having the highest need.

Laughlin and Edwards argued that they needed another physician at their clinic because of the high demand for medical services there.

But AHS decided the need for another family physician in High Prairie wasn’t high enough, and declined the sponsorship request. High Prairie has another medical clinic which is owned and operated by AHS.

Population discrepancies 

Laughlin and Edwards later applied for a judicial review. They argued that an AHS analysis of the need for physicians in High Prairie was “off-target,” and that AHS had wanted to “put their clinic out of business,” Lema wrote in his decision.

Lema ruled AHS’s decision was justified and that its denial of sponsorship in High Prairie was not “for an improper purpose.”

“In fact, it was the only reasonable decision available in the circumstances here,” he wrote.

Laughlin and Edwards challenged AHS’s view of High Prairie not having a dire need for another physician.

AHS estimated the population of High Prairie and surrounding communities at about 11,300 people. The physicians pointed to various other sources that put the numbers between 15,000 and 20,000 people.

Laughlin and Edwards said the heavy demand for medical services at their clinic means it often operates seven days a week, with evening clinics. Between 20 and 30 patients are turned away each day, they said.

But Lema said Laughlin and Edwards hadn’t shown that the population figures provided by AHS weren’t accurate.

The doctors’ own numbers were not calculated or sourced, Lema said, and were only qualified by the mayor and reeve of the area agreeing that the population of the area is closer to 15,000 or 20,000.

Lema added the recruitment took place in 2016, the same year a Canadian census was taken, and that the data for population would have been available.

Edwards and Laughlin could not be reached from comment on whether they plan to appeal the decision.

Anizoba was eventually sponsored for a position in Westlock, 90 km northwest of Edmonton.

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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.


Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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