Sacking of wildlife biologists and chief medical officer linked to glyphosate

GM Watch - July 18, 2019 - Jonathan Matthews

Dissent crushed to protect New Brunswick’s glyphosate addiction

Wildlife biologist Rod Cumberland has been fired from the Maritime College of Forest Technology (MCFT) in New Brunswick, Canada. 

A June 20 letter from the college lists several reasons for his dismissal. But the college’s former director, Gerald Redmond, says the real reason is Cumberland‘s critical stance towards the use of glyphosate in forestry. “There is no other explanation,” Redmond told the National Observer.

Glyphosate is killing New Brunswick’s deer

Cumberland, the former chief deer biologist for the province (pictured left in the image above), argues that the heavy use of glyphosate in forestry has had a devastating impact on New Brunswick’s white-tailed deer population, which plummeted by over 70% from 286,000 in the mid-1980s to just 70,000 by 2014. 

Redmond, who is also a wildlife biologist, says that when he was the college’s director he experienced “attempts to sanction Rod for speaking up on this important wildlife issue”. 

According to Redmond, “The other issues cited in [Cumberland’s] letter of termination that focus on his classroom management and teaching approaches are simply ‘window dressing’ to cover up the real reasons for his dismissal.” 

Redmond says Cumberland should definitely be reinstated. “Rod Cumberland is one of the finest, most experienced and professional wildlife biologists that I have had the pleasure to know and work with. On top of that, he is an incredible educator and communicator.”

Second sacking

Within 24 hours of his publicly linking Cumberland’s dismissal to glyphosate, Redmond too was fired by the college he at one time directed and where he was still teaching.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers, which represents 77,000 academics across Canada, has condemned the dismissal of both teachers, saying it appeared to show the college had “violated their academic freedom and their basic right to due process”.

Chief medical officer sacked while investigating glyphosate

But Cumberland and Redmond are not the only experts in New Brunswick whose dismissals have been linked to concerns about glyphosate.

In 2015 New Brunswick’s chief medical officer, Dr Eilish Cleary (pictured right in the image above and in the poster below), was investigating the human health impacts of the herbicide when she was suddenly put on leave without being allowed to discuss the reasons. She told reporters, “I was surprised and upset when it happened. The whole situation has caused me significant stress and anxiety. And not being able to talk about it makes it worse.”

A month later Dr Cleary was fired, bringing an abrupt end to her role in the investigation.

It was subsequently reported that New Brunswick’s Health Department had “concluded ‘a satisfactory agreement’ that was legally consistent with other instances of dismissal without cause”. But they refused to make Dr Cleary’s actual severance terms public. Eventually, after Radio-Canada took them to court, they were forced to disclose that they had paid her $720,000 (equivalent to over half a million US dollars).

Mario Levesque, a political science professor at Mount Allison University, said the size of the settlement could help explain why the government had tried to keep it secret. He told CBC News, “I think this is hush hush money.” 

Silencing dissent in New Brunswick

Eilish Cleary’s willingness to speak out on controversial public health issues was well known. In 2012, she had produced a report that drew attention to the “social and community health risks” related to fracking. The provincial government considered keeping the report secret but eventually agreed to publish it.

Following that episode, Cleary said she had had to “re-affirm my right and my ability to speak”. But Mario Levesque says her sacking shows the government might have found another way to silence her.

Rod Cumberland is also known as someone not afraid to go public with his concerns. Redmond describes him as a person who “does his research and is never intimidated to speak out when something is amiss”. 

And that kind of outspoken dissent is “rare” in New Brunswick, according to an article in Le Monde Diplomatique: “Teachers, civil servants and politicians fear reprisals; some have been intimidated.” 

The article, published earlier this year, gives both Rod Cumberland and Tom Beckley, a professor of forestry at the University of New Brunswick, as examples of experts who have come “under pressure when analysing the impact of this weedkiller on local fauna and the lack of transparency in the provincial government’s management of forests”.

According to Gerald Redmond, “A lot of good people in government and elsewhere have been intimidated.” Cumberland, who used to work for the provincial government, is even reported as saying that “numerous other government officials who’ve opposed current forest practices have been removed from their posts”.

And when the chief medical officer was sacked, the leader of New Brunswick’s New Democratic Party pointed out that “silencing New Brunswick’s most prominent government scientist” sent a clear signal: “We cannot expect civil servants to do their job when even prominent public officials like Dr Cleary are muzzled.”