Dr. Shiv Chopra, Dr. Margaret Haydon, and Dr. Gérard Lambert: 2011 Integrity Award

Monday, November 14, 2011

2011 Integrity Award
Dr. Shiv Chopra
Dr. Margaret Haydon
Dr. Gérard Lambert

Dr. Shiv Chopra is tireless. Speaking from his home in Ottawa, Chopra describes how he and his Health Canada colleagues were consistently harassed, reprimanded and eventually dismissed for whistleblowing on issues involving public health and food safety between 1988 and 2004.

“It’s not just our right, it’s our obligation to blow the whistle,” he says. “This is a matter of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and these freedoms are on behalf of the public, for the public.”

In 1998, Chopra, Dr. Margaret Haydon and Dr. Gérard Lambert, scientists working for Health Canada, testified before the Senate, raising concerns about the controversial bovine growth hormone (rBGH) developed and manufactured (at that time) by multi-national food corporation Monsanto. The drug was designed to promote milk production in dairy cattle, and testimony from the scientists led to an almost universal ban of the drug in developed nations.

And they didn’t stop there. Later, the group warned against carbadox, a drug that promotes growth in pigs. In 2003, before mad cow disease grabbed headlines, Chopra and Haydon called for a total ban on including animal parts in the feed of other animals. In 2001, Haydon publicly argued that a ban on beef from Brazil was focused more on politics than public health.

During this time, the scientists say, they experienced pressure from the highest levels of bureaucracy, and that this was at the behest of large corporations. Over six years, Chopra, Haydon and Lambert were reprimanded, muzzled and eventually dismissed in 2004 for insubordination.

“By dismissing us from our jobs, the government is trying to scare other public service employees so nobody else will speak out about any illegal things being done in the workplace,” says Haydon. “Since our dismissal, they have legislated new rules under the Public Service Accountability Act, administered by the Public Sector Integrity Commission, which provides no protection to whistleblowers. More than 10 years ago, we were sent to then new Public Service Integrity Office, which dismissed our complaint without conducting a duly proper investigation. Ten years later, we are still waiting for a proper investigation ordered by the Federal Court.”

In August 2011, the scientists’ complaints were considered at the Public Service Labour Relations Board. In a 208-page report, the Board ruled against seven of the eight grievances filed by the scientists. In one case, they agreed that Lambert was wrongly dismissed—but Chopra and Haydon remain fighting.

Chopra, Haydon and Lambert exemplify why whistleblowers should be lauded and protected. By sacrificing career and reputation to keep Canadian food safe, they’ve led the way in protecting the public good.

Lyndsie Bourgon (lyndsiebourgon.com) is a freelance writer in Toronto.

Integrity Award
New in 2011, CJFE is presenting the Integrity Award to recognize and build awareness of the need to protect the rights of “whistleblowers,” those people who, without thought of personal gain and at personal and professional risk, expose corruption, or illegal or unethical practices in the public or private sectors. The recipients of this award are individuals who acted courageously in the public interest without thought of personal gain, and in doing so risked reprisals in the form of threats to their careers, livelihood, or personal freedom.