Health Canada whistleblower loses job over revealing health risks

by Lyndsie Bourgon

Dr. Shiv Chopra is tireless. Speaking from his home in Ottawa, Chopra describes how he and his Health Canada colleagues were consistently harassed, reprimanded and eventually dismissed for whistleblowing on issues involving public health and food safety between 1988 and 2004.

“It’s not just our right, it’s our obligation to blow the whistle,” he says. “This is a matter of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and these freedoms are on behalf of the public, for the public.” In 1998, Chopra, Dr. Margaret Haydon and Dr. Gérard Lambert, scientists working for Health Canada, testified before the Senate, raising concerns about the controversial bovine growth hormone (rBGH) developed and manufactured (at that time) by multinational food corporation Monsanto. The drug was designed to promote milk production in dairy cattle, and testimony from the scientists led to a ban of the drug in Canada. And they didn’t stop there. Later, the group warned against carbadox, a drug that promotes growth in pigs. In 2003, before mad cow disease grabbed headlines, Chopra and Haydon called for a total ban on including animal parts in the feed of other animals. In 2001, Haydon publicly argued that a ban on beef from Brazil was focused more on politics than public health.

The scientists say that, during this time, they experienced pressure from the highest levels of bureaucracy and that this was at the behest of large corporations. Over six years, Chopra, Haydon and Lambert were reprimanded, muzzled and eventually dismissed in 2004 for insubordination.

“By dismissing us from our jobs, the government is trying to scare other public service employees so nobody else will speak out about any illegal things being done in the workplace,” says Haydon. “Since our dismissal, they have legislated new rules under the Public Service Accountability Act, administered by the Public Sector Integrity Commission, which provide no protection to whistleblowers. More than 10 years ago, we were sent to the then-new Public Service Integrity Office, which dismissed our complaint without conducting a duly proper investigation. Ten years later, we are still waiting for a proper investigation ordered by the Federal Court.”

In August 2011, the scientists’ complaints were considered at the Public Service Labour Relations Board. In a 208-page report, the Board ruled against seven of the eight grievances filed by the scientists. In one case, they agreed that Lambert was wrongly dismissed, but Chopra and Haydon remain fighting for their jobs. Chopra, Haydon and Lambert exemplify why whistleblowers should be lauded and protected. By risking their careers to keep Canadian food safe, they’ve led the way in protecting the public good.

Lyndsie Bourgon is a freelance writer in Toronto (lyndsiebourgon.com). This article originally appeared in a publication by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (cjfe.org). Reprinted with permission in Common Ground.

 


Dr. Chopra wins Integrity Award

Dr. Shiv Chopra – along with Dr. Margaret Haydon and Dr. Gérard Lambert – is a recipient of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE’s) 2011 Integrity Award. This new award highlights the need to protect those who speak out in the public interest and reflects the commitment shown by these Canadian scientists when they informed the Canadian public about specific health dangers inherent in food production in the face of great pressure to remain silent.

“This award highlights a critical element in the struggle for free expression,” says Arnold Amber, CJFE president. “It recognizes that those who speak out against wrongdoing in the public or private sectors do so at tremendous risk, both personally and professionally.” The three scientists being presented with the inaugural Integrity Award are regarded as heroes around the world, particularly for raising concerns regarding Monsanto’s bovine grown hormone (rBGH), a drug designed to boost the milk production of dairy cattle.

These revelations triggered international headlines and resulted in rBGH being banned in Canada and most other developed countries, but also led to the three scientists being reprimanded, ordered to be silent and eventually dismissed from Health Canada. CJFE confers its Integrity Award on Canadians who act in the public interest, without thought of personal gain when they speak out about dangerous, unethical or illegal practices they learned of or experienced in the course of doing their jobs. The award highlights the right of all Canadians to take action in the public interest and their right to freedom of expression in doing so.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) champions the free expression rights of journalists and media workers around the world. In Canada, it monitors, defends and promotes free expression and access to information. It encourages and supports individuals and groups to be vigilant in the protection of their own and others’ free expression rights. They are active participants and builders of the global free expression community. (www.cjfe.org)

3 thoughts on “Health Canada whistleblower loses job over revealing health risks”

  1. dear dr. ch0par, dr.haydon dr.lambert,.thank you so much for speaking up for us here in CANADA . We are dire need and thankfull for pepole like you who exspose things that nead exsposing thank you again .glen cousins ps you may want to think about joining (gin) for more help glen cousins

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  2. IT is dissapointing and alarming to realize how easily our health can be jeopardized by a few foolish and unethical bureaucrats such as those at Health Canada.

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