1 of 3 Health Canada 'whistleblowers' reinstated

The union representing three former Health Canada scientists says it is disappointed by a labour board decision that meant a victory for only one of the workers.
Dr. Shiv Chopra is one of three former Health Canada scientists who was fired in 2004. He lost a recent decision by the public service labour board that agreed with Health Canada that he was dismissed fairly for insubordination. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

The union representing three former Health Canada scientists says it is disappointed by a labour board decision that resulted in a victory for only one of the workers.

The union says Dr. Gérard Lambert, Dr. Shiv Chopra, and Dr. Margaret Haydon began speaking out in the 1990s after being pressured by their bosses at Health Canada to approve drugs despite concerns over human safety. 

In one such incident, the three scientists sparked headlines in 1998 when they raised concerns about the safety of bovine growth hormone as a veterinary drug during testimony before a Senate committee.

After several more incidents when the three scientists made public their concerns about department policy, they were eventually fired in 2004 for insubordination and have been fighting to get their jobs back ever since. The Public Service Labour Relations Board considered their cases and last week ruled that Lambert was dismissed unfairly and should be reinstated, but not Chopra or Haydon.

"The scientists were all terminated on the same day, for the same reasons and we are perplexed as to why the labour relations board did not reinstate all three scientists," said Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. The union has been supporting Chopra, Haydon and Lambert in their bids to get their jobs back.

The labour board found that all three scientists were insubordinate and did not obey instructions. But in Lambert's case, the board said conclusions were made about him before his assignment was complete, according to a lawyer for the union. The union says it's perplexed by the board's decision because Chopra and Haydon were in virtually the same circumstances as Lambert but were not ordered reinstated.

'Pioneers in whistle-blowing'

Corbett said the union is reviewing the board's decision and will then determine its "next steps." The union could appeal the case and bring it to federal court.

"That's one of the options we're considering at this time," he said.

"These three scientists are perfect examples of public service professionals putting the interests of the public first, ahead of their own interests. They are leading the way in the protection of the public good and they are pioneers in whistleblowing," Corbett said.

In Lambert's case, the adjudicator for the labour board said the two sides in the dispute have 90 days to try and reach an agreement on what compensation he is owed for lost salary, pension and other benefits. If an agreement can't be reached, the adjudicator will be tasked with making a ruling.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.

With files from Canadian Press