Richard Wolfson, PhD
There is war at Health Canada. On one side of the battlefield stands Dr Shiv Chopra and other drug evaluators who firmly refuse to approve drugs of questionable safet.
There is war at Health Canada. On one side of the battlefield stands Dr Shiv Chopra and other drug evaluators who firmly refuse to approve drugs of questionable safety. On the other side stands the Drug Directorate management influenced by pharmaceutical companies who wish to facilitate a fast-track of drugs to market.
The battle erupted in 1998 with the evaluation of rBGH (genetically engineered bovine growth hormone). When rBGH is injected into dairy cattle, cows produce more milk. Chopra and other scientists uncovered research showing rBGH causes safety problems for animals and humans. Sparks flew when they would not approve the drug and the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry investigated the resulting commotion. The Committee called the scientists to testify. After hearing about the dangers of rBGH, the senators recommended that the drug not be approved a decision Health Canada eventually agreed to.
The Health Canada scientists also told the Committee about other drugs of questionable safety that had been approved against their advice including growth hormones for animals that had been allowed even though the drugs were known to produce deformities in animals and were linked to cancer!
An Attempt to Silence
Health Canada officials were frantic! Corruption in its drug approval process was exposed. How could it silence the dissenting scientists?
On July 23, 1999, two months after Chopra spoke before the Senate his supervisor, Dr Andr?achance, suspended him for five days without pay. But at the end of the same year another Senate committee began investigating whether the suspension was retaliation against Chopra for testifying before the Senate. Such retaliation is against the law.
This investigation was stalled due to various events, including the disappearance of Dr Lachance, Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs a key witness. Shortly before Lachance was to testify, his lawyer sent a letter stating that he was on stress leave and couldn't appear for questioning!
At about the same time, the Federal Court of Canada investigated and removed a gag order that Health Canada imposed on Chopra in 1998 forbidding him from speaking to the press or in public about concerns regarding the health of Canadians being risked. The court ruled Chopra was justified in speaking to the public because he had first exhausted all possible government channels for voicing his very serious concerns.
The Senate's investigation of the five-day suspension was stalled. In the meantime, Chopra filed a grievance with the Public Service Staff Relations Board (PSSRB) of Canada, claiming he was unfairly suspended. After various delays, including another failed attempt to get Lachance to testify, the PSSRB heard the grievance from November 28 to December 1, 2000.
Government officials said that Chopra was suspended because he spoke critically of Health Canada in March of the previous year at a Heritage Canada meeting. This argument made little sense since Chopra had been making these same allegations for many years, criticizing Health Canada's record on racism. In fact Chopra had actually won a landmark case on the matter in the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
The Plot Thickens
The grievance hearings took an amazing twist with the testimony of Hugh Hards, Senior Human Resources Advisor at Health Canada, who unwittingly proved that there was a conspiracy on behalf of senior management to muzzle Chopra.
Hards testified that he had attended Chopra's disciplinary meeting in July purely as a witness to take notes. New documents surfaced that contradicted his testimony. In fact, these documents showed that Hards had actually recommended Chopra's disciplinary action. More damning evidence showed that Hards had even compiled the questions asked at the meeting. Copies of e-mails and briefing notes from July 23 showed that after the meeting, he wrote the report that recommended disciplinary action. Hards, a member of senior management, who first said he had little role in the disciplinary meeting or the suspension, in fact, played a key role in both!
Under cross-examination, he had no choice but to admit that his testimony contradicted the new evidence. He also admitted to altering his notes from the July meeting, after obtaining input from Lachance and another colleague from the Human Resources Branch (who was not even at the disciplinary hearing). Hards' testimony conveniently hid facts that proved senior management conspired against Chopra.
This case illustrates enormous underlying corruption at Health Canada, with senior management dancing to the tune of industry pressure and coercion. Fortunately, Dr Chopra and other government whistleblowers are battling against these pressures in order to safeguard the safety and rights of Canadians.