'He had no regrets': Friends, family remember whistleblower Shiv Chopra

Shiv Chopra, a prominent food safety advocate perhaps best known for blowing the whistle on Health Canada's drug approval process in the 1990s, died on Jan. 7 at the age of 84.

Chopra spent much of his life advocating for Canadian food safety

Former Health Canada scientist Shiv Chopra, seen here in 2017, was a prominent food safety advocate. He died earlier this month at the age of 84. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Dr. Shiv Chopra's fight to preserve the sanctity of Canada's food system might have cost him his job, but he always believed that fight was worth it.

The prominent food safety advocate, perhaps best known for blowing the whistle on Health Canada's drug approval process in the 1990s, died on Jan. 7 at the age of 84.

He was remembered Saturday at an event in Ottawa for family and friends.

"He would do it all over again in a heartbeat," said his son Anil Chopra, before the ceremony.

"He had no regrets at all."

Decried use of pesticides, hormones

Born in India, where he earned a degree in veterinary science, Chopra came to Canada and completed his PhD in microbiology at McGill University.

He soon began working for Health Canada, reviewing veterinary drugs for potential use in Canada's food industry.

An outspoken advocate, Chopra decried the use of pesticides, hormones and toxins in food production, eventually taking on the country's drug approval process.

In the late 1990s, Chopra and two colleagues, Dr. Margaret Haydon and Dr. Gerard Lambert, spoke out against Health Canada, saying they had been pressured by their bosses to approve drugs despite concerns about human safety.

One of the drugs they opposed was Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), meant to increase milk production in cows.

Chopra's whistleblowing eventually led to a Senate inquiry and a decision not to approve the drug.

Lasting legacy

Many credit Chopra's testimony for blocking the use of potentially harmful products on animals in Canada, including artificial hormones and antibiotics.

In 2014, Chopra founded the Canadian Council on Food Safety and Health to champion safer food production methods.

"He wanted to make our government regulators accountable for letting corporations write policy and allow these toxins in our food," said Ken Billings, the council's executive director.

Anil Chopra said banning rBGH from Canada's food production system has had a lasting positive impact on the safety of Canadians.

"It's immeasurable," he said. "It's an enormous effect that it had on the health and lives of Canadians at large over the last 15 years."

Chopra and his colleagues were fired in 2004 for insubordination. Despite a 13-year legal battle, Chopra lost his bid to be reinstated last year.

Devoted to community

Though Chopra was best known for his public advocacy, Anil Chopra said his father also worked tirelessly in his community, from volunteering at school science fairs and serving on boards to presiding over the local field hockey association.

"He taught us how to see something from somebody else's point of view," Chopra said. "It's probably the greatest gift that anybody can give you."

Chopra said he hopes Canadians will remember his father for his decision to put his career on the line in service of his country.

"No matter what the price was to be paid — if it was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do," he said.

Chopra's family held a ceremony open to family and friends Saturday afternoon at the Hindu Temple of Ottawa Carleton.

Faced with an outpouring of support and condolences from the community, the family hopes to organize a public memorial service in February.