One whistleblower gets job back, two others not so lucky

Health Canada scientists were fired for insubordination after public opposition to drugs and criticism of food safety

A scientist fired by Health Canada seven years ago for whistleblowing was wrongfully dismissed, but two of his colleagues fired the same day won’t be getting their jobs back, the Canada Public Service Labour Relations Board has ruled.

Gerard Lambert, Shiv Chopra and Margaret Haydon were drug evaluators for Health Canada who made news more than a decade ago when they went public with food safety concerns. In the late 1990s, they publicly stated their opposition to the use of a bovine growth hormone in milk production, which led to a Senate inquiry. The hormone was eventually not approved.

The three scientists also opposed the use of a growth hormone for pigs and one for cows and chickens, due to concerns of carcinogenic properties and antibiotic resistance, respectively. Chopra and Haydon also warned in 2003 that Canada’s precautions against mad cow disease weren’t enough and wanted a total ban on animal parts in animal feed. Chopra also publicly criticized the federal government for over-reacting to the threat of bioterrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

On July 14, 2004, the three scientists were fired for insubordination. The Professional Institute of Public Service (PIPS) grieved the dismissals.

After five years of hearings, the Public Service Labour Relations Board dismissed the grievances of Chopra and Haydon but found Lambert was wrongfully dismissed. It ordered Health Canada to reinstate Lambert and referred to an adjudicator to decide how much compensation he would receive for the past seven years, during which none of the three scientists have found other jobs.

'”Their only defiance is that they resisted commercial pressure and provided evidence to official parliamentary committees,” PIPS president Gary Corbett told the Canadian Press (CP) after the decision was released. “Cases of dismissal like these do nothing good to help public service whistleblowers to come forward and denounce wrongdoing within their departments.''

Lambert told CP he was likely owed more than $250,000 in lost pay but his health had suffered through the seven-year ordeal. It was also bittersweet for him, since his colleagues lost their fight.

PIPS indicated it was considering its next move, which could include an appeal to the Federal Court.

"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," Corbett told the Ottawa Citizen.

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