Ontario’s science table says the province will create a small group of advisers

Liam Casey and Allison Jones, Canadian Press

Published Sunday, August 28, 2022 at 9:21 AM EDT

According to a science table memo obtained by The Canadian Press, the Ontario Department of Public Health plans to replace Ontario’s COVID-19 scientific advisory table with a new, smaller group that is more constrained.

A Science Table memo to Public Health Ontario sent this week sets out a long list of concerns about what they describe as the agency’s plan. It represses sexuality, does not allow outside scientists to collaborate with them on briefs, and impedes the group’s ability to communicate its findings to the public.

“Significant questions were raised by the negotiating committee about the extent to which the widely accepted concept of scientific independence is constrained,” the memo said.

“PHO officials said scientific members of the new committee could propose an agenda, but the PHO would have veto power over the agenda.”

The Science Table, which has provided guidance and advice to the government and the public through most of the pandemic, said it would be disbanded by the Ontario Department of Public Health on Friday. said it would continue.

However, according to an Aug. 22 memo sent by the Science Table Negotiating Committee, since moving from the Dalarana School of Public Health to the Ontario Department of Public Health in April, the group’s new mission is to work with Public Health Ontario. was. at the University of Toronto.

The scientific table was originally promised that the new mandate would be based on the original mandate, according to the memo. But on August 11, the negotiating committee of the Science Table received a draft new terms of reference prepared by the Ontario Public Health Service and the Chief Medical Officer. The memo raised some concerns, stating that it was not based on previous documents agreed by the parties.

The group was notified by Public Health Ontario after the Science Table Negotiating Committee raised these concerns, said a source with knowledge of the debate, who did not want to be identified for fear of expert retaliation. .

Public Health Ontario said it was still finalizing the revised terms of reference and could not comment further.

In a statement Friday, the Science Table said it was still in the process of finalizing the new mission.

“The new terms of reference reflect a long-term, sustainable approach to continue providing trusted, independent, scientific and technical public health advice to the state regarding COVID-19 and future public health emergencies. It establishes an obligation to ensure that the

“Members will continue to be made up of independent professionals.”

Concerns about these scientific tables include the inability to select topics, the name of the new group – the Ontario Public Health Emergencies Scientific Advisory Board – confusing the public, and unclear criteria by which the 15 new members will be selected. It included being The chair is a scientist and cannot have outside scientists co-author the brief.

“(It) would critically limit the ability to involve outside scientists and trainees in the work product of the table and undermine the norms of scientific transparency and accountability of the work produced,” the note notes. said.

The Science Table wrote in an open letter Friday that the Ontario Department of Public Health notified last week that the Science Table and its working group will be dissolved on Sept. 6. work.

“Science Table’s achievements reflect the incredible dedication of the hundreds of volunteer scientists, physicians and administrators who have devoted their time to this effort,” they wrote.

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve Ontario beginning in July 2020. Many of us consider our work at Science Table to be the most You will remember it as one of your jobs.”

At an unrelated press conference, Prime Minister Doug Ford said he had no intention of dismantling the science table.

“We’re really transferring that to public health,” he said. “They’ve had an incredible relationship during this pandemic. We will have a full-time home instead.”

The Ministry of Health said in a statement on Friday that “the work of the Scientific Advisory Board” will continue.

The science table’s advice and guidance during the pandemic sometimes runs counter to government actions, and former science director Dr. Peter Juni was particularly outspoken.

Dr Fahad Razak, who took over from Juni this year, said in a statement that he hoped the scientific advice the group provided to the public and decision-makers helped alleviate suffering. .

“The COVID-19 pandemic will remain a daunting challenge for the foreseeable future, and our healthcare system is currently under extraordinary strain,” he wrote.

“We hope that we can continue to keep our systems functioning in the difficult months ahead by taking all necessary steps to reduce the burden of the pandemic.”

Ontario’s science table says the province will create a small group of advisers

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