Eilish Cleary not on leave to force silence: deputy minister

The top civil servant in the Department of Health has made a rare public statement to reject suggestions that Dr. Eilish Cleary is being silenced. Tom Maston, the deputy minister at the department, says the “human resources process” that’s underway is “not politically motivated.”

Deputy Minister says Dr. Cleary's leave "not politically motivated."

Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province's chief medical officer of health, said she was "surprised and upset" that she was placed on leave. (CBC)

The top civil servant in the Department of Health has made a rare public statement to reject suggestions that Dr. Eilish Cleary is being silenced.

Tom Maston, the deputy minister at the department, said the "human resources process" that's underway is "not politically motivated, nor have questions been raised about the medical and scientific work being undertaken by the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health."

CBC News reported Wednesday that Cleary was working on a study of the controversial herbicide glyphosate when she was placed on leave.

Some environmental activists have concerns Cleary was put on leave because of the study, but Maston said that is not the case.

He does not say what led to the leave. "We have an obligation to protect the privacy and personal information of all parties involved," said the email statement.

At the Legislature Thursday, Environment Minister Brian Kenny pointed out that on top of the ongoing study by Cleary's office, Health Canada is also reviewing glyphosate.

The product was described earlier this year as "probably" carcinogenic by a branch of the World Health Organization. Health Canada has said it is not harmful to humans.

Cleary has told reporters by email that she is not allowed to discuss the reasons for her leave, but she has said she was "surprised and upset" that it happened.

Maston's written statement said the process underway "involves Dr. Cleary and others and … has been initiated and is being overseen by professional civil servants as part of their responsibilities under the Civil Service Act."

PC leader Bruce Fitch said Thursday there's a "disturbing" trend of the Gallant Liberals trying to silence independent watchdogs.

He pointed out the government's recent feud with the auditor-general and its failure to appoint a new conflict of interest commissioner, a position that has been vacant since July.

Maston's written statement saying there's no political motive to Cleary's leave echoes Health Minister Victor Boudreau's comment on Wednesday that the move has "nothing to do with the office per se or the independence of the office."

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