Microbiologist, Infectious Disease Specialist and Adoptive Acadian
The life of microbiologist Richard Garceau has changed profoundly since March 2020, when finding ways to combat COVID-19 became the country’s top priority. An expert in infectious diseases and virology, he represents New Brunswick on Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. After finishing his training as a doctor at Université Laval (Quebec City) in 1986, he completed his residency in medical microbiology at the University of Calgary (1988) and Université Laval (1990). He then pursued a fellowship in diagnostic virology at the latter institution’s Virology Laboratory.
Dr. Garceau founded and developed the New Brunswick Diagnostic Virology Reference Centre at Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre. He oversees the development and provision of diagnostic tests using virology, viral serology, molecular virology and molecular microbiology for the province of New Brunswick. He speaks with pride of the care he has given to patients seen at the hospital or followed in the community to treat a variety of pathologies, including tuberculosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS, over the past 31 years.
Residents of New Brunswick have frequently heard him on Radio-Canada or seen him on national TV explaining infectious diseases and the COVID-19 virus in layman’s terms. He provides straightforward answers to questions from journalists and citizens.
“As with some infectious diseases, viral strains are transmitted by wild animals, regardless of whether they’re consumed by humans. The global impact has been overwhelming, shutting down society since 2020,” he remarks. Dr. Garceau condemns the attitudes of those who have attacked people of Asian origin in major Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, blaming them as vectors of the disease, which is completely wrong. This discrimination toward immigrants is unfounded. He is also concerned about the severity of COVID-19’s impact on the members of remote Indigenous communities.
Dr. Garceau has refined the science of diagnostic testing with the help of a team of experts, including scientist Guillaume Desnoyers and four fellow physicians. He has also contributed to Canadian research activities since arriving in New Brunswick in 1991. Born in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, in March 1962, the doctor is known among his peers and friends for his rational, pragmatic approach to problem-solving. The actions of this “man of common sense” are much appreciated by his patients, along with New Brunswick’s francophone community.
A fan of outdoor activities and downhill skiing, he also gets on his bike to commute to work six months a year. As a lover of wide-open spaces, he has hiked trails in a host of provincial and national parks across the Atlantic region, accompanied by his wife and their three children. His sense of belonging has also been nurtured through his participation in regional activities organized by the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick (SANB), or Acadian Society of New Brunswick.
His contributions to committees, round tables and public debates have addressed recognition of language rights in New Brunswick’s public services. This includes access to French-language healthcare in all regions of the province, as well as French-language services in municipalities. Appeals made by the SANB have included (and still include) calling for quality teaching in French and consolidating the gains made with respect to services. Giving a voice to regional Acadians and increasing their presence in decision-making roles also relates to environmental issues and regional development, notes Dr. Garceau, a resident of Dieppe and an engaged citizen who passionately follows the latest news about his province and country. In 2008, he took part in the SOS Dumont movement aimed at maintaining centralized French-language health services in the agglomeration of Moncton-Dieppe.
“In the public sphere, we all have the right to raise issues and problems in our society and, of course, to help offer solutions. This right must be preserved here in Acadia and everywhere in Canada,” he remarks. In his view, responsible governance in our democracies means “maintaining or increasing investment in the state’s public services to achieve a better quality of life and offering the best opportunities to grow as a society.”
According to this progressive vision, sustainable development is not a hackneyed buzzword used by idealists but a valid description of the society of tomorrow, in which resources and the environment will be able to support communities’ future growth potential. “The depletion of resources such as minerals, the limited access to potable water in certain regions of the planet and the catastrophic impacts of climate change are forcing us to rethink our approach. Are we in the process of using up future generations’ biosphere?”, he wonders. “The uneven distribution of wealth among the rich and poor concerns me too. This is a very real issue for many rural regions of New Brunswick.”
Without prompting, this expert on health sciences suggests a few possible avenues for creating a better world: “The state’s commitment to sustainable development and an environmentally responsible society could take the form of a legal framework that sets acceptable polluting emission thresholds for each vehicle category.… The day of merely offering incentives to reduce pollution is over! We need to think about regulating fuel prices in order to discourage heavy consumers and set up a standard framework for all provinces to pay the real cost of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, funding for public transit needs to be encouraged. The elimination of tax havens for the super-rich, so that their wealth will be given back to the poorest members of society, is necessary. Collecting taxes from the Big Four tech companies would also help to redistribute wealth to families and the most disadvantaged people.”
The socially engaged doctor also argues with conviction that “public investment aimed at improving the living environments of Indigenous peoples, which are often associated with appalling poverty, is more than necessary. Public health administrators are facing very real challenges in terms of vaccination, controlling and tracking epidemics, and environmental health.”
“To halt the erosion of language rights in the country’s minority francophone regions, the presence of entities such as official language commissioners is desirable,” he adds. “These would be authorized to pressure public organizations by leveraging laws and regulations and other effective means. Maintaining the bursary system to facilitate access to college and university systems is also a priority.”
His message for young people is this: “Follow the advice of informed people when you need healthcare. When choosing a career, carefully weigh the obligations and sacrifices needed to achieve your goals. Whenever career or work opportunities arise, analyze them carefully. And finally, explore your country!”