CBC broke the story that New Brunswick’s Chief Officer of Health, Dr. Eilish Cleary, was put on leave while studying glyphosate, a herbicide used by JD Irving Ltd and NB Power. Earlier this year, the International Agenda for Research on Cancer has deemed glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans” – only one level below a “known carcinogen.” The last week has produced a wave of pressure on the government asking for transparency, and for Dr. Cleary to be reinstated in her former position.
Lack of transparency
The Liberal government has not been forthcoming with a reason for this dismissal. Cleary has shared that “although no cause is now alleged, the Government of New Brunswick has let me know that they have come to the conclusion that my particular skillset does not meet the needs of my employer.”
For those unaware of Cleary’s accolades, let us take a look:
Dr. Eilish Cleary is an award-winning physician whose resume includes: Regional Medical Officer in Manitoba; working as a primary care physician in Ireland, England and Sierra Leone; Chief of Staff in Norway House Hospital, in a Cree First Nation community in Northern Manitoba; associate of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy; assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba; and Adjunct Professor at the University of New Brunswick.
The support for Dr. Cleary is widespread across political and geographic boundaries. The New Brunswick Medical Society’s open letter to Minister of Health, Victor Boudreau, brings up the New Brunswick Liberal’s 2013 call for independence of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. The NBMS plans to follow up on a list of unanswered questions, including the apparent lack of a “rigorous and fair human resources process” associated with the suspension based on personnel issues. The NBMS states “[i]f any part of our own work suggest that our former Chief Medical Officer of Health was terminated because of a scientific or medical opinion, we will strongly protest such a decision.”
The Peoples Alliance of New Brunswick described her firing as “a huge public issue, especially with her history of straightforward talk and unbiased research.” Former Tory health minister Ted Flemming says the government “has an awful lot of questions to answer,” while NDP Leader Dominic Cardy is calling for an immediate independent investigation into the matter.
A defender of public health
Dr. Cleary is known as a defender of public health, standing on the side of science and community well being rather than corporate interests. She called for a stall in shale gas development in the province, saying “I do not think the health pieces are being adequately addressed, even within the current rules for the industry…” Recently, Dr. Cleary had been looking into the potential health impacts of the herbicide glyphosate. Ann Pohl, a Council of Canadians supporter from Kent County, has stated her concerns publicly that “corporate and political pressure” was put on Dr. Cleary.
Other public health concerns, which were likely to have been on Dr. Cleary’s desk, include the effects of released air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by the malfunctioning vapour recovery unit in Irving Oil’s East Saint John terminal. These VOCs are released during ship loading when the terminal handles fuel from the Irving Saint John oil refinery, Canada’s largest oil refinery at 300,000 barrels per day.
This research would have come at a critical moment as concerns are being raised by human health risk assessment expert, Ken Froese about the health effects of the Saint John oil tank farm, part of the proposed Energy East pipeline. Froese found that TransCanada’s study may have understated risks from benzene and odours that would be released from the six-story high holding tanks.
Community mobilizes behind Dr. Cleary
Many individuals and groups have stated their support for Dr. Cleary, recognizing the necessity for a trusted, respected and capable independent health officer. More than 445 people have already sent letters to the premier of NB, the provincial health minister and their local MLAs using the Council of Canadians’ action alert, demanding that Dr. Cleary be reinstated. Dozens of people participated in a protest outside office of the Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The province of New Brunswick may have suffered a blow from the (hopefully temporary) loss of a trusted Chief Medical Officer, but the Gallant government’s reputation has suffered an equal one in the eyes of the public. This move has deepened the distrust that people have in the NB government and traditional institutions. The lack of transparency and accountability is galvanizing concerned citizens from the farmer’s fields to the urban core in ways reminiscent of the anti-shale gas alliances (one of which, has already released a statement on Cleary’s dismissal).
Photo: Caroline Lubbe-D’Arcy, Council of Canadians Fredericton Chapter
Join the movement
Join the call! Send a letter to bring Dr. Cleary home for the holidays and have her reinstated as New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health through the Council of Canadians website.
Sign the online petition demanding Premier Brian Gallant stop muzzling the NB Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Tweet a photo of you holding a sign with “#BringBackCleary” (and your own personal message) to @BrianGallantNB and @VictorBoudreau.
Share information and follow community posts on the Facebook page “Reinstate Dr. Eilish Cleary.”
Stay tuned for an upcoming action alert from a coalition of groups in NB, which will be discussed at a press conference in Fredericton.
Photo: Emma Jackson, Divest MTA