Back to top

Lettre de l’ACPPU – Ingérence dans le Bureau d’éthique de la recherche de l’Université Simon Fraser

(Le 27 janvier 2023) L'ACPPU a adressé à Mme Joy Johnson, rectrice et vice-chancelière de l'Université Simon Fraser, une lettre dans laquelle elle commente les récents développements concernant une ingérence dans le Bureau d'éthique de la recherche de l'Université Simon Fraser. Nous croyons comprendre que, sous la direction du vice-président, Recherche et Affaires internationales de l'Université Simon Fraser, les fonctions de plusieurs membres du Bureau d'éthique de la recherche, y compris celles du président et du vice-président, n'ont pas été renouvelées, sans justification, contrairement à la politique de l'Université et sans l'approbation du sénat. L'ACPPU est d'avis qu'il s'agit d'une grave ingérence de l'administration dans l'indépendance du Bureau d'éthique de la recherche, qu'elle sape les principes largement établis de la gouvernance collégiale, qu'elle viole les propres politiques et pratiques de l’Université Simon Fraser et qu'elle menace potentiellement la liberté académique et l'intégrité de la recherche.

January 27, 2023

Dr. Joy Johnson
President and Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, B.C.
Canada V5A 1S6

Dear President Johnson,

I am writing about recent developments concerning SFU’s Research Ethics Board. It is my understanding that, at the direction of SFU’s Vice President Research and International, several members of the REB, including the Chair and Deputy Chair, have been non-renewed without justification, contrary to university policy, and without Senate’s approval. CAUT is of the view that this represents a serious interference by the Administration with the independence of the REB, undermines widely established principles of collegial governance, violates SFU’s own policies and practices, and potentially threatens academic freedom and research integrity.

Based on existing policy and practice, it is our conclusion that the VPRI has no authority to make decisions about the composition of the REB. The University’s policy on “Ethics Review of Research Involving Human Participants” is unequivocal about Senate’s role: “The Research Ethics Board (REB) derives its authority from the Senate,” (5.2.1). Further, Schedule A of the policy requires that all potential REB members be “subject to a Senate ratification or decision vote,” (1.5.3). The VPRI’s decision to unilaterally make decisions about the non-renewal of members of the REB is a clear breach of the policy and represents a blatant undermining of Senate’s power.

Moreover, I note that the proposed new Standard Operating Procedure for the REB would grant the VPRI the explicit authority to remove and appoint members. While the VPRI’s appointments would still be subject to ratification by Senate, the proposed process takes away Senate’s direct role in choosing from and electing members to the REB.

This administrative interference into the composition of the REB is a serious matter that should be particularly concerning for SFU given prior experience. In the mid-1990s, the University was embroiled in a protracted controversy involving research ethics and academic freedom. A former graduate student was subpoenaed to provide information about one of his research subjects. Divulging this information, however, would be contrary to the strict guarantee of research confidentiality he provided participants in his research protocol that the University Research Ethics Committee had approved. The University and the ethics committee declined to assist the student in challenging the subpoena. A review of the case released in 1998 concluded that the Administration had put concerns over legal costs and its reputation ahead of its primary obligation to defend academic freedom and research integrity.

The outcome of that case led to a series of important changes that were designed, amongst other things, to ensure the independence of the REB from administrative influence and pressure. It is unfortunate that, with the latest developments, the Administration seems to have forgotten the lessons learned. In doing so, it is inviting a repetition of the past.

I urge you to immediately restore the composition of the REB so that Senate can decide upon renewals. Any changes to the Research Policy or REB procedures must be discussed through the proper process and under the authority of Senate.

Given that this matter implicates important principles of collegial governance and academic freedom, I will be referring the case to the CAUT Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee which, subject to any additional information you may provide, will review and consider appropriate actions to take.  


David Robinson
Executive Director

Dr. Kumari Beck, President, Simon Fraser University Faculty Association 
Dr. Peter McInnis, President, CAUT
Dr. Alison Hearn, Chair, CAUT Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee