Queen’s fails animal research test

University District

Queen’s Animal Defence criticizes lack of transparency around animal research practices

Queen’s Animal Defence held a public audit of Queen’s.
Queen’s Animal Defence held a public audit of Queen’s.
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Queen’s failed a “Freedom of Information audit” held by Queen’s Animal Defence (QAD) on March 16, termed Freedom of Information Day.

QAD Media Coordinator Zipporah Weisberg said the club had filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) request in February 2014, asking for information about the number of animals used, species and the categories of invasiveness of each experiment conducted by the University.

The request was denied, she said.

Weisberg, who is an Abby Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellow in Animal Ethics in the Department of Philosophy, said Queen’s denied the request and a subsequent appeal, citing security concerns. The request is currently with an adjudicator, Weisberg added; she said the University has presented its case against disclosure and QAD is preparing its case.

“There’s no evidence that releasing this kind of information that we’ve asked for leads to an increase in security threats,” she said.

“We just feel that actually what’s happening here is that they’re using that security concern as a way to silence us and it’s an unfounded security concern.”

She said QAD’s goal is to encourage Queen’s to provide information that will allow the public to form its own opinions.

Weisberg noted that some universities in Canada provide this information, including UBC and McGill.

The Canada Council on Animal Care (CCAC), a not-for-profit organization that oversees animal research, divides experiments into five categories of invasiveness, ranging from experiments causing little or no discomfort or stress to ones causing severe pain either near or above the pain tolerance threshold of un-anesthetized, conscious animals.

“We’re trying to offer an opportunity to open up the discussion, and we’re disappointed that Queen’s has put up barriers to that,” Weisberg said.

She criticized the lack of transparency around the membership of University Animal Care Committee (UACC). The UACC, which reports to Vice-Principal of Research Steven Liss, is comprised primarily of members of Queen’s faculty and administration, with only one community member required to sit on the committee; the identity of UACC members isn’t public.

The committee is designed to ensure animal welfare is a top priority in research and experiments follow CCAC guidelines — something Weisberg said she thinks it fails to do because of how the review process of research protocols is structured.

She said when a publicly funded research protocol comes to the UACC, it’s already passed the Tri-Council and been found to have scientific merit and been funded.

“The concern is that there’s very little weight that the UACC can have at that point because it’s already been considered scientifically worthwhile to pursue the study,” she said.

“We’re just saying that although the University presents itself as providing rigorous scrutiny and assessing these protocols with animals’ welfare in mind as a top priority, in fact it’s really just going through the motions.”

She added that the community not knowing who its representative on the UACC is could also be problematic, as well as the requirement of having only one community member on the board.

Liss told the Journal via email that the University is “committed to transparency regarding research and teaching involving animals”, and added that as a response to calls for increased transparency, Queen’s has published more information about animal use, including on the UACC website.

He said the University provided information about animal use to someone who made a FIPPA request.

“[W]e did not provide all of the information requested, primarily for the protection and privacy of our researchers, staff and the members of the University Animal Care Committee,” he said.

He said Queen’s researchers, veterinarians and animal care technicians are “committed to humane care” and developing alternatives to animal use and reducing the number of animals used in procedures.

“As a research-intensive university, we respect the rights of some of our community members to challenge research practices,” he said.

“[H]owever, we also respect the rights of our researchers to carry out work that has the potential to change millions of Canadians’ lives for the better.”

Liss didn’t respond before deadline to a question about what information was and wasn’t provided to the requester.

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