Health Canada fires whistle-blowing scientists
Three criticized department drug-approval process
Jul. 14, 2004. 07:00 PM
OTTAWA (CP) — Health Canada has fired three scientists who repeatedly criticized the department's drug-approval policies, and who claimed they were being pressured to approve unsafe veterinary drugs.
Chiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert, probably the country's best-known whistle-blowers, received letters of termination today, said Steve Hindle, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service.
Hindle declined to spell out reasons given for the terminations, indicating these will be the subject of legal proceedings as the union seeks to have the scientists rehired.
"My first reaction was that this was retribution for the three of them having been very outspoken about policy and procedures at Health Canada and processes that they were not comfortable with," said Hindle in an interview.
A Health Canada spokesman denied the terminations have anything to do the scientists' criticism of department policies.
"I can tell you they are no longer employed at Health Canada and this is not because of anything they may have said publicly," said Ryan Baker.
He said reasons for the dismissals were contained in letters sent to the employees, and that these were confidential. The scientists could not be reached today.
Mike McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition said the three scientists were being penalized for trying to do their jobs.
"What they've been doing is putting the health of Canadians before the interests of business, in particular drug companies," said McBane.
"This is really an ominous signal from the government. These are Canadian heroes and this is the way the government is treating them."
But Baker said Health Canada fully supports protection for whistleblowers.
"Health Canada's No. 1 priority is the health of Canadians and that goal is achieved through a strong regulatory framework based on the best available scientific evidence," said the departmental spokesman.
"Health Canada fully supports and abides by the existing policy that allows for disclosure of alleged wrongdoing in the workplace. We also support the need for strong legislation in this regard."
The scientists have been involved in a series of high-profile skirmishes.
In the late 1990s, they publicly opposed rBST, also known as bovine growth hormone, a Monsanto product which enhances milk production in cows. Their criticism led to a Senate inquiry and a decision not to approve the drug.
They criticized carbadox, a drug used to promote growth in pigs, saying it could produce carcinogenic residues. They criticized Baytril, used to promote growth in cows and chickens, saying it could produce antibiotic resistance in humans.
In 2001, Haydon said that a Canadian ban on Brazilian beef had more to do with politics than public health. The ban, purportedly to prevent the risk of mad cow disease, was lifted a few months later.
During the anthrax scare, Chopra criticized then health minister Allan Rock's to spend millions stockpiling antibiotics, saying the fear was overblown.
Chopra and Haydon warned in 2003, before Canada's first case of mad cow, that measures to prevent the disease were inadequate. The called for a total ban on the use of animals parts in the feed of other animals.