Nova Scotia

Dr. Gabrielle Horne's lawsuit heads to Nova Scotia Supreme Court today

Dr. Gabrielle Horne accuses her employer of shutting down her research 14 years ago.

Doctor says her employers and two individuals shut down her research into heart disease

Gabrielle Horne lost four years of research while waiting for her clinical privileges to be restored (Dalhousie University)

A long-standing feud between a medical researcher and her employers heads to Nova Scotia Supreme Court today.

Dr. Gabrielle Horne is suing the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the department of medicine jointly run by the authority and Dalhousie University, and two individuals. She accuses the four of shutting down her research 14 years ago.

Thirty days have been set aside for trial, which will be heard by a seven-member civil jury. 

Horne's problems began in 2002. At the time, she was doing research into heart disease. But her clinical privileges were revoked after getting into a dispute over who should be on her research team. Losing those privileges effectively ended her research.

A jury trial will begin Thursday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by Dr. Gabrielle Horne. (Robert Short/CBC)

"The research program shut down during the investigation because myself and my research staff were not allowed to go into the clinic where the patients that we were doing the research on were based," Horne told CBC News this week.

"So the patients didn't have an opportunity to take part in the research, we didn't have a way to offer them that opportunity and so very few patients managed to get into our research program and we had to shut it down."

'The personal toll has been enormous'

Horne said some of the patients who were part of that original research have since died. Her privileges were eventually restored, but she has been unable to restart her research.

"The personal toll has been enormous," she said. "To wait 14 years for a chance just to clear my name has been incredibly difficult."

In January, the Canadian Association of University Teachers released a report into how Dalhousie University and the district health authority treated Horne and two other doctors.

The report says each doctor had complaints filed against them by colleagues, including allegations of not being team players and challenging the authority of a department head. They were disciplined in "career-threatening ways," the report says.

Horne said that report exposed a problem in the system.

"I don't know what could be wrong with us, with the health-care community, if we can't get together and agree that research has to be supported and protected," she said.

"And I don't know how we can be role models for the next generation of doctors and health-care providers if we can't uphold those values."

Jury trial

At the end of the trial, the jury will be asked to answer a series of questions crafted by the judge to determine whether Horne's case succeeds.

"I think it's a difficult case for a jury," her lawyer, Michael Wright, said from Toronto this week. "It is complicated and there is science involved and not everybody loved taking science in school and so it's a bit of a challenge."

The case is unique in another way. Horne's main goal in launching the lawsuit is to force the health authority to restore her research program.

"And they need to compensate her for that disruption and put her back in the place she was before these acts took place," Wright said.

"So it's unusual in the sense that often those damages are for the benefit of individuals. And here, the benefit is for her research career, not for her personally. And the research is intended to benefit everybody else in the world, not her."

Horne likens the start of this court case to open heart surgery: no one wants it, but "when you know it's what you need to move forward, it's good to see that day coming up."