Director of public health school resigns after backlash over Hawaii vacation

Dr. Peter Berman has resigned from his post as director of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) following a trip to Hawaii last month going against public health guidelines.

Berman announced his resignation in a statement released Friday on the SPPH website.

“I took this difficult decision based on my assessment that the conditions of distress and division currently prevailing at SPPH make it impossible for me to continue to provide effective leadership to grow and develop our school, our community and our profession in my role as SPPH Director,” he said. Berman did not return request for comment.

This decision comes after a statement earlier this month where Berman voiced regret for travelling over the holidays. It was later found that he vacationed in Hawaii with his family, violating British Columbia’s ongoing public health guidelines against non-essential travel within and outside of the province.

Berman’s resignation follows a series of Canadian public officials who were found to have left the country during the pandemic. The list includes a number of federal and provincial politicians, as well as public health officials including a hospital administrator in Southern Ontario, one of the areas in Canada hardest hit by the pandemic.

It’s not yet clear who will fill Berman’s position.

Nineteen SPPH faculty members wrote a letter to UBC President Santa Ono and the Faculty of Medicine expressing their disappointment in Berman and arguing that someone in his position should understand the risks associated with travel.

SPPH students expressed similar sentiments at a meeting for students on January 11, where several students called for Berman to resign.

Adjunct Professor Mina Park tweeted that the flouting of public health rules was a sign of Berman’s privilege in occupying such an important post in the SPPH and undermined trust in public health officials.

“A public health leader should know better,” said the letter. “This decision to travel harms our School’s ability to contribute leadership in calling for our communities to sustain daily practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for the public good.”