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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 1999

Committee of Inquiry Appointed in Olivieri Case

Last month CAUT announced the appointment of an independent committee of inquiry to investigate events at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto involving Dr. Nancy Olivieri and Apotex Inc.

The case of University of Toronto clinician Dr. Nancy Olivieri gained attention last year when her research at the Hospital for Sick Children led her to believe that a new drug treatment posed dangers to some patients. It is alleged that the hospital and the university failed to come to her defence when Apotex, co-sponsor of the research, objected to her publishing her findings. It is further alleged that hospital and university officials and representatives of Apotex variously subjected her to workplace and other harassment.

The case was reviewed by CAUT's Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee which concluded that the issues raised are serious and that many questions remain unanswered by reviews conducted by other bodies. In addition to matters affecting Dr. Olivieri, broad institutional policy issues exist. Accordingly, the AF&T committee has appointed an independent committee of inquiry.

The members of the committee of inquiry are: Patricia Baird, University Distinguished Professor, Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia; Jocelyn Downie, Director of the Health Law Institute, Dalhousie University; and Jon Thompson, Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New Brunswick, who is chairing this committee.

Committees of inquiry are appointed to conduct objective investigations in cases where there are serious allegations involving violations of academic freedom or other professional rights, or involving discrimination. Such committees are composed of respected members of the academic community who have relevant experience and who serve on a volunteer basis. They are appointed by the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee and are provided with terms of reference and a budget. They then develop their own procedures, investigate the facts, draw conclusions and make a report. The report is submitted to the AF&T Committee, which ensures that the parties to the dispute have access to the report and an opportunity to comment on it prior to publication. The comments of the parties involved are published with the report.

Under its terms of reference, the committee of inquiry will investigate whether there were breaches of academic freedom, or research or clinical ethics, and whether changes in Dr. Olivieri's working conditions during the controversy impaired her and her colleagues' ability to conduct their scientific research and treat their patients. The committee also has been asked to consider making general policy recommendations on university/industry research.

The committee has been provided with its own office and support staff in Toronto and with extensive documentation. It will make its initial site visit to hear witnesses and receive more documents in early November. The AF&T Committee has undertaken to arrange for publication of the report of the committee of inquiry.