Whistleblower scientists to fight government firing

Three scientists who claim they were fired by Health Canada because they publically criticized the department plan to fight the decision

Three scientists fired Wednesday by Health Canada after criticizing the department's drug approval policies said Thursday they will fight the decision.

Steven Hindle, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, believes Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert were terminated because of their outspokenness vis-à-vis the approval process for new drugs.

The three were especially critical of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone, which led to a Senate inquiry and a decision not to approve the drug. They also questioned carbadox, a drug used in pigs, and Baytril, which was used to promote growth in cows and chickens.

Haydon called a 2001 Canadian ban on Brazilian beef a political decision, and Chopra criticized former health minister Allan Rock for stockpiling antibiotics during the post-Sept. 11 anthrax scare.

Prior to the May 2003 discovery of mad cow in Canada, both Haydon and Chopra also warned measures to prevent the disease were inadequate. They had called for a ban on the use of animal parts in feed.

"They've faced various levels of discipline," said Hindle. They've been verbally reprimanded, instructed not to speak to media and suspended, he added.

The three scientists weren't fired from the Veterinary Drugs Directorate because of their public criticism, said Health Canada spokesperson Ryan Baker, adding the reasons for the dismissals are confidential and included in the letters of termination.

The scientists' actions were applauded by NDP MP Pat Martin, who called the three "heroes."

"If the government has signalled the way they feel about whistleblowing by firing these three prominent whistleblowers, it doesn't bode well for the future of meaningful legislation...this is a huge step backward," added Martin.

Hindle agrees that this action sets a bad precedent saying, "it will cause other public service employees, who have legitimate concerns, to keep those concerns to themselves."

The union will take the case to the public service staff relations board for resolution. Its decision can be appealed by either side.