Health Canada Whistleblowers
Continue to Fight for the Public Interest
Dr. Shiv Chopra is an Institute member whose decade-long battle against Health Canada’s decision to approve unsafe drugs administered to animals destined for human consumption garnered world-wide media attention.
The Institute is supporting an application for judicial review of the decision issued in early August by the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB) in the cases of PIPSC members Dr. Shiv Chopra, Dr. Margaret Haydon and Dr. Gérard Lambert. The three scientists had been dismissed from the Veterinary Drugs Directorate of Health Canada for “insubordination” in July 2004, after publicly expressing concerns about the approval of a drug they believed could have harmful effects on Canada’s food chain. Ironically, their efforts to keep bovine growth hormone out of Canada’s milk supply were ultimately successful – but at a tremendous personal and professional cost.
PIPSC has actively supported these now-famous “whistleblowers” for years in their efforts to obtain redress before the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB). Unfortunately, all but one of their grievances were dismissed by the Board. Dr. Lambert’s termination grievance was upheld.
The three scientists are requesting that the adjudicator's decision on the seven unsuccessful grievances be set aside, or that they be returned to a Board adjudicator for reconsideration based on directions given by the Federal Court, and on the record already before the PSLRB.
As it stands, the PSLRB’s decision may well have serious consequences for public service employees who disclose wrongdoing in their workplace. The ruling does not strike a balance between a professional's ethical and professional obligations to act in the public interest, and an employee's duty to abide by the employer's directives. On that basis and in light of the individual rights at issue in these grievances, the Institute will continue to assist Drs. Chopra, Haydon and Lambert in their efforts to have their dismissals overturned. Meanwhile, Health Canada persists in maintaining that the scientists were not fired for speaking out against commercial interests.
The actions of these scientists do not constitute insubordination, but, in fact, lie at the core of a public servant’s ability to protect the public interest.
While these scientists are perfect examples of public service professionals putting the public interest ahead of their own, dismissals such as theirs do nothing to encourage other public service employees from coming forward and denouncing misconduct in the workplace. This is just the latest example of the government's inability to protect its employees from retaliation in these types of situations. Although “whistleblowing” legislation is in place, its provisions are clearly inadequate. The PSLRB ruling sends a message that can only serve to dissuade other public service employees from exposing wrongdoing within their departments and agencies.
PIPSC is standing by its members in this case as their actions do not constitute insubordination, but, in fact, lie at the core of a public servant’s ability to protect the public interest. While “whistleblowing” can occur in any area of government, this case sets a particularly important precedent for all federal scientists. Their ability to provide expert opinion without fear of repercussions or impairing the Canadian public’s health and safety must not be compromised for commercial, or any, reasons. Members can read about further developments on this matter at www.pipsc.ca, where updates on the case will be posted as soon as they become available.