Thursday November 12, 2015

Concordia University won't retract controversial asbestos report

The Rideau Institute's Kathleen Ruff, right, is one of a group of experts who's calling on Concordia University to retract a controversial study about the Jeffrey asbestos mine in Quebec. The picture on the left shows the mine in 2011.

The Rideau Institute's Kathleen Ruff, right, is one of a group of experts who's calling on Concordia University to retract a controversial study about the Jeffrey asbestos mine in Quebec. The picture on the left shows the mine in 2011. (Left: The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot, Right: The Rideau Institute)

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Montreal's Concordia University will not retract a controversial report about Quebec's asbestos industry that was published by one of its lecturers earlier this year. The report has been heavily criticized by a group of experts who have been calling for its retraction since it was released in July.

"I don't understand why Concordia University is not acting responsibly to remove what it knows is false information that will cause harm to people's lives," Kathleen Ruff tells As it Happens guest host Helen Mann. Ruff is a senior human rights advisor at the Rideau Institute.

The report in question, entitled Lessons from the Quebec Asbestos Industry: Can there be meaningful dialogue and consensus when facts come up against feelings? was written by John Aylen, a lecturer with the university's John Molson School of Business. It focuses on the Quebec government decision to cancel a $58-million loan that had been promised to the Jeffrey mine company. In his report, Aylen asserts that emotions outweighed facts in coming to the decision.

 "The whole argument he's putting forward is the opposite of the truth."   - Kathleen Ruff

Ruff says there were major conflict of interest concerns with the report. Aylen has worked as a consultant for the asbestos industry. Specifically, he was hired as a consultant by Baljit Chadha, one of the owners of the Jeffrey mine.

"It's completely unacceptable to have an industry consultant writing a report and not declaring that fact," says Ruff. 

Chadha is also connected to Concordia University. In 2014, he was named an emeritus member of the university. He has also donated thousands of dollars to the school.

"It sends out a message to the world that Concordia University will put out false scientific information that serves vested interests," says Ruff. "If they're going to be a public relations agency for vested interests in industry, well then, they should say that."

Ruff says there are also factual problems with Aylen's report. 

"The report contained false information promoting use of asbestos saying that it can be safely used. And this false information will cause harm to people's lives," she says. "The whole argument he's putting forward is the opposite of the truth."  

Jeffrey Mine

The Jeffrey asbestos mine is shown Friday, October 7, 2011 in Asbestos, Que. (The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot)

After Ruff and her colleagues sent a letter to the university in July, the president launched an investigation into the report. 

"The dean of the John Molson School of Business conducted the inquiry. That's the entity which commissioned, funded, and published the report. So, he asked them to do an internal investigation of themselves."   

Following the investigation, the university has acknowledged that there was "oversight" on their part; however they say they will not be retracting the study.

Here's an excerpt from the statement Concordia University provided by request from As it Happens:

"As is the case with any publication that may be directly or indirectly associated with the University, the views of authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the University or its administrators. Members of the faculty and students have to publish their ideas unfettered by the University. This is the essence of academic freedom. In this instance, there was an oversight regarding process on the part of the University. This oversight has been acknowledged and addressed in a way that can constructively improve the processes of the Centre. This matter was studied and analyzed thoroughly and we are fully satisfied that all of the actions taken in response to the allegations were appropriate in the circumstances."

UPDATE: