UBCO students could have a major impact on making animal testing in Canada more transparent by mobilizing, the lead activist with Stop UBC Animal Research says.
Speaking to a class on the Okanagan campus this week, Brian Vincent, of Stop UBC Animal Research, said his group does not believe animal testing is safe for humans, ethical or moral; but he’s even more concerned about the veil of secrecy surrounding testing in Canada and the lengths to which the university will go to to protect science from public scrutiny.
“One hundred thousand animals a year at UBC are experimented on…Why is that OK, but the 100 dogs shot in Whistler horrified people?” he asked in effort to point out how little the general public knows about what’s happening.
As one of the leading research-based universities in the country, Vincent said he would like to see UBC posting details of the research happening on both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses as researchers are required to do in the U.S.
Instead, Stop UBC Animal Research is currently bogged down in appeals, waiting for the Freedom of Information officer in Victoria to make a decision on whether the group is permitted to demand things like photos and videos of the research in question.
Of 10 requests for information made, two were turned down outright, citing a section of the Freedom of Information Act which exempts university research, and eight were subject to costly photocopying fees the activists are not yet willing to pay fearing their efforts might all be for naught if the documents are returned empty.
An Access to Information request filed with the federal government brought back fifty blank pages with “X” placed over the content area. Of the 20 remaining pages, the text included only bibliographic information and budgets without any of the information requested—what animals are being used, how many, why, and so forth.
“You can burn an animal alive in Canada,” Vincent told 40 students gathered in a class originally scheduled to show both sides of the issue. Scott Reid, head of the new In Vivo lab on the UBCO campus, declined an invitation to attend.
The only thing standing between science and animal welfare is the Canadian Council on Animal Care, Vincent said.
The CCAC is comprised of 22 organizations—all with a vested interest in medical testing except one. It has no legislative teeth and operates entirely on the basis of voluntary compliance, he said.
Like the activists angered by the Whistler sled-dog tragedy, Vincent pointed to this lack of legislation as a critical issue the activists want to change.
In the United States, the Animal Welfare Act sets standards and gives private citizens a place to turn to raise concerns.
“Let’s get an Animal Welfare Act. We want to end animal research. I don’t apologize for that, but at least get something to compel some compliance,” Vincent said.
Right now, Stop UBC Animal Research is the largest group of its kind in Canada and is relying, quite successfully, on leaked documents to make its points.
Documents leaked from within UBC have helped them stop researchers from killing seven endangered sea turtles, have saved four monkeys from being killed, have helped show how much research is being done on campus and what that looks like.
The group also shed light on the university’s approach to the subject of debate.
While the university’s head of research, John Hepburn, told media last week he respects the activists’ position and that they have not posed any threat to UBC researchers, internal emails disseminated to UBC faculty, passed to the group and then on to media, cast doubt on that position.
The emails suggest the university wants anyone who spots one of the activists protesting or simply walking around on campus is to call 911.
“Animal activists use shock tactics in an effort to gain public sympathy via news media. In other parts of the world, such sensationalist tactics have escalated to violence against researchers and, in North Vancouver earlier this month, a group called the Animal Liberation Front resorted to acts of vandalism against an individual in the fur trade,” one email stated.
Vincent said he would like to see UBCO students band together on the issue to pry open barriers the university has set up and can provide a primer for those who want to start a group on how to do so. He suggested mobilizing those interested in animal welfare or the vegan lifestyle.