When Anne Duffy, a University of Ottawa professor of medicine, arrived for work at the university's Institute of Mental Health Research at the Royal Ottawa Hospital on March 23, she got a nasty surprise inside.
On her secure file room door was a note advising that her research records, as well as those of colleagues Paul Grof and Martin Alda, had been removed.
Additional research material had also been seized from her locked office and from the offices of her research coordinator and research nurse. A note taped to the door said the removal had been done by the "ROH administration, IMHR administration and Research Ethics Board." No reasons were given.
Duffy then discovered, along with her staff, that their computer settings had been altered, preventing them from adding to or working with their database.
In addition, their computer files had been moved to a different drive on the hospital's network. Duffy was not informed of who held the records and where.
Intensive efforts by counsel for the three researchers failed to get a cogent reason for the seizures, nor were they able to get the records back. But counsel did learn the researchers' records had been copied in violation of the study subjects' consent forms.
The mystery deepened when the deputy head of the Royal Ottawa Hospital and vice-chair of psychiatry at the University of Ottawa, Paul Dagg, wrote to Duffy on April 12 saying he was in agreement with both Duffy and Grof that they "comprehensively and accurately addressed all of the concerns raised (in a meeting with Dagg) about privacy and confidentiality" and that "no explanation (was) provided as to why their research data was seized and why it has not yet been returned to them."
Adding further to the mystery, Alan Douglass, who chairs the ROH research ethics board, wrote to the president of Ottawa's Institute of Mental Health Research on April 21 to say the members of the REB "regret that the IMHR administration did not advise the REB in advance of the 22-Mar-2005 seizure of the Grof/ Duffy research charts." He added: "The REB affirms that it has not suspended the research projects of Drs. Grof and Duffy."
"Such a seizure and copying of confidential research records and data without charges or reasons is unprecedented in Canadian universities," said James Turk, executive director of CAUT. "We cannot understand why it was allowed to happen.
"Even more unsettling is the failure of the University of Ottawa, through whom Duffy's and Grof's principal grants are administered, to step in and protect the integrity of the research and the rights of the researchers and their subjects."
Independent Inquiry — Trudo Lemmens, Thomas Ban & Louis Charland will investigate institution research seizures.
CAUT has formed an independent committee of inquiry to investigate the situation.
The committee will be chaired by Trudo Lemmens, an associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of Toronto, with cross-appointments in the faculty of medicine (medical genetics and microbiology, and psychiatry), and associated with the Centre for Innovation Law and Policy and with the Joint Centre for Bioethics.
Lemmens is joined on the committee by Thomas Ban and Louis Charland. Ban is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. Charland is an associate professor in the departments of philosophy and psychiatry and in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Western Ontario.
The committee's terms of reference are to investigate the sequence of events leading to, and subsequent to, the seizure of the research records of Drs. Anne Duffy, Paul Grof and Martin Alda; to examine the institutional context at the University of Ottawa, the Institute of Mental Health Research, and the Royal Ottawa Hospital that may have had a bearing on the decision to seize the documents and on the response of the institutions to the seizures; to determine if there were breaches of institutional responsibility; to determine the impact of the events on the academic integrity and academic freedom of those involved; to determine if there were breaches of research ethics standards; to determine the implications of the seizures for the research project, the researchers, the research subjects, the University of Ottawa, the Institute of Mental Health Research, the Royal Ottawa Hospital and the research funders; and, to make any appropriate recommendations.
Anyone who wishes to provide information to the committee about this case should contact Professor Lemmens by phone: (416) 978-6418, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Under CAUT policy, independent committees of inquiry function fully autonomously. CAUT only learns of the work of the committee, its report and recommendations when the committee releases its report publicly.