Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another enemy of the people exonerated

I had not been aware of the on-going saga of Dr. John O'Connor until today, when I was alerted to his case by a letter-writer in the Ottawa Citizen who compared his situation to that of the embattled Linda Keen.

Dr. O'Connor's crime was to uncover, starting in 2003, some higher-than-normal clusters of illnesses such as cholangiocarcinoma (a rare cancer of the bile duct) in the remote northern Albertan hamlet of Fort Chipewyan. He proceeded to make the connection between on-going health problems in that community and pollution from tar sands development near Fort McMurray carried by the Athabasca River. Health Canada, infamous for its cosiness with big business and its heavy-handed treatment of whistleblowers, did precisely what we have come to expect of that department--together with Alberta Health and Wellness, it laid charges against him this year, in an attempt to have his medical licence removed.

After hearings before
the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, only one charge against Dr. O'Connor now remains: "causing undue alarm in the community." It is not expected to stand. Indeed, the charge appears ludicrous: Alberta health inspectors, grudgingly testing the water in the community ten years after concerns were first raised by scientists, admitted that they had found high levels of arsenic, but weren't planning to monitor the situation. Another scientist, Kevin Timoney, who has studied the Athabasca River for 14 years, says: "The level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are significantly high enough to raise the risk of cancer."

Protecting the health and safety of Canadians, as we have seen recently, is considered nothing less than a firing offence by the powers that be. In fairness to the Conservatives, these shenanigans on the part of Health Canada have had quite a lengthy history. But, as the current Keen Kaper demonstrates, the practice of putting Canadians at risk continues unabated. More Enemies of the People, please. It seems they're the only allies the people have got at the moment.

UPDATE: (January 10)

Bread and Roses has some good background material/commentary on this case. H/t commenter Holly Stick. And more from Creative Revolution. And Berlynn! Good grief, I must have been asleep.

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