Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 1998

Law assures confidentiality

John Lowman's and Ted Palys' article in the Bulletin (June), "When Research Ethics & the Law Conflict" should be of great interest to researchers in the social sciences in general, and criminology in particular.

While I understand their concern to protect the confidentiality of research data and the privacy/anonymity of research subjects, I do not understand their argument that the "limited confidentiality" clause required by Simon Fraser's ethics review procedures "traded away participants' right to confidentiality by undermining their only legal protection, the so-called Wigmore test."

The clause in question apparently assures participants that "Any information that is obtained during this study will be kept confidential to the full extent permitted by law." Since the "law" evidently incorporates the so-called Wigmore test, as Russel Ogden's experience before the Vancouver Coroner's Court and Lowman and Palys' analysis in the article confirm, how can it be said that the limited confidentiality clause undermines the Wigmore test?

Participants in research to which this clause relates evidently enjoy confidentiality to the full extent permitted by law, which includes the benefit of the Wigmore test, and any claims to confidentiality beyond these limits would certainly -- contrary to what Lowman and Palys assert -- involve a claim that such research should be "above the law."

When I last checked, academic freedom did not include freedom to ignore the established law of the land. If we find the law intolerable, of course we have the option to advocate changes to it but not the right to disobey it with impunity.

Criminology, University of Toronto