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News May 18, 2021

Two Eminent Canadian Whistleblowers Join CFE Whistleblowing Initiatives Steering Committee

Michèle Brill-Edwards and John O’Connor are joining the group that guides the Centre for Free Expression’s many whistleblowing initiatives.

“Drs. Brill-Edwards and O’Connor are legendary for their courage and integrity in putting themselves and their careers at risk to speak out about wrongdoing that threatened the health of many Canadians,” said James L. Turk, Director of the Centre for Free Expression. “We are delighted that they will be joining the CFEWI Steering Committee as we expand our advocacy, assistance, research, and public education in relation to whistleblowing and whistleblowers.”

From 1980 to 1996, Brill-Edwards was a drug regulator with Health Canada, and from 1988 to 1992 was the senior physician responsible for the regulation of prescription drugs in Canada. She also served in 1990-1992 as an expert advisor on medical research and drug evaluation for the World Health Organization in Geneva.

In 1996, Brill-Edwards resigned from Health Canada in 1996 to speak publicly against the undue hidden influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the drug approval process, and the resulting violations of the Food and Drugs Act endangering Canadian lives. A national documentary on her resignation spurred ground-breaking research demonstrating that financial conflict of interest distorts scientific evaluation of medicines. International medical authorities subsequently upgraded controls on pharmaceutical conflict of interest in medical research, efforts which continue to this day.  

O’Connor, a physician working in northern Alberta began noticing in 2006 an unexpected number of cancers and other health problems among the residents of the remote northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan. His reports of his findings were rebuffed by authorities and has led to an ongoing fifteen-year struggle for the health rights of this largely Indigenous community and others downstream from the Alberta oil sands. For his continuing efforts, O’Connor was named the inaugural recipient of the Peter Bryce Award to honour individuals who serve the greater good by courageously speaking up about wrongdoing and abuses of public trust.

The Centre for Free Expression in the Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson University is a hub for public education, research and advocacy on free expression and the public’s right to know. CFE undertakes its work in collaboration with academic and community-based organizations across Canada and internationally.