Sept 24th 2001
Press Conference Transcript

Good morning. My name is Peter Rosenthal. I am a lawyer with Roach, Schwartz and Associates. I'm joined today by Dr. David Healy by telephone from Wales and here in Toronto by Jim Turk, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Dr. Healy has initiated a lawsuit against the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the University of Toronto, and two individuals associated with these institutions. The action alleges a breach of a contract and the commission of several other wrongs.

I will begin with a summary of the legal process and then Dr. Healy will make a statement by telephone. After that, Jim Turk will explain CAUT's position. Following these initial comments by the three of us, we will all be available to respond to any questions you may have.

A year ago there was an agreement that Dr. David Healy would take up a position as Clinical Director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, CAMH, and a professorship in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Then, on November 30, 2000, Dr. Healy gave an invited lecture at a colloquium at CAMH. It is alleged in paragraph 32 of the statement of claim that the physician in chief of CAMH expressed particular concern about Dr. Healys assertions concerning the possibility that Prozac could cause some people to commit suicide. A week later, CAMH and U of T unilaterally terminated their agreement with Dr. Healy, telling him that “it is not a good fit between you and the role as leader of an academic program in mood and anxiety disorders at the Centre and in relation to the University. This view was solidified by your recent appearance at the Centre in the context of an academic lecture.”

The Canadian Association of University Teachers, the University of Toronto Faculty Association and many individuals have stated that terminating the agreement in such circumstances violated the principles of academic freedom.

At several times in several ways, Dr. Healy, other distinguished researchers in psychiatry, CAUT, the University of Toronto Faculty Association and others suggested that CAMH and U of T revise their position. They do not appear to have done so. On the contrary, spokespeople for those institutions have continued to attempt to justify their breaching of the employment agreement. It is alleged in the statement of claim that several of their justifications defame Dr. Healy as a scientist and as a physician.

When it became clear that CAMH and U of T would not respond to the many requests that they change their approach to this matter, Dr. Healy retained me to begin a lawsuit. Last Friday, a statement of claim, the document that formally begins such a legal process, was issued by the Superior Court of Justice. This morning, copies of the statement of claim have been served on the defendants, and copies are available for your examination.

The essence of the claim is that there was a contract of employment which was unilaterally breached by CAMH and U of T, and that the courts should remedy that breach. The first remedy requested is that Dr. Healy be re-instated to the position he contracted for or that Dr. Healy be awarded damages in the amount of the income he’s losing.

The evidence available so far suggests that CAMH’s and U of Ts termination of the agreement was at least partially a result of their reaction to the content of the lecture he delivered on November 30. The statement of claim alleges that breaking Dr. Healy's contract for such reasons contravened the principles of academic freedom, and there is an additional claim for damages for the violation of those principles. This is a novel claim, never advanced before in a Canadian court, as far as we know, but we feel it is now very important that this kind of claim be recognized by the courts. Universities and research institutions are increasingly funded by donations from private corporations, and there is increasing concern that such corporate influence might stifle academic debate. In this context, we will argue that the possibility of court intervention is needed to protect academic freedom.

The prime reason this lawsuit is being initiated is to contribute to providing an atmosphere that will foster unfettered scientific discussion and research. We hope that this case will contribute to enhancing academic freedom in general and, in particular, with respect to research concerning the prescription and marketing of drugs.

Dr. Healy is, I hope, on the other end of that speaker phone. Dr. Healy?

DR HEALY: " When what happened to me happened, my first instinct was in line with what would probably be most peoples first instinct - this was to lie low and hope no-one would hear about it. If nobody heard about it the damage to my career might perhaps be minimised.

That option however was never really open to me. Given how many people knew about my impending move, I was trapped into a situation where the real prospect facing me was being questioned on the witness stand about being sacked by the University of Toronto. Remember my first awareness that there was a problem came when I heard from third parties in a third country that there was a problem.

In the light of this I initiated a correspondence with the University that on my side was open to possibility of not only limiting damage to both them and me but in fact going beyond that and using what had happened as an example from which we could all learn and that might lead to greater supports for academic freedom. I felt then and still feel now that there are opportunities here for David Goldbloom, Paul Garfinkel and David Naylor to show real leadership. They can still approach the issues in a manner that would I think earn the respect of the entire academic community.

My overtures however were rebuffed unceremoniously and indeed I have been increasingly amazed and dismayed by the response from some within CAMH and the University.

It is this lack of engagement that has led to the current legal action. I had no plans when first raising the issues with the University to take legal action but the response of the University has forced my hand.

One of the purposes of this action is to find out what happened on November 30th and in the days after it. There has been a lot of speculation about what might have happened and I do not plan to speculate further in any way at this point. What interest in this question has revealed though is that a very small number of people have answers to the question of what happened and even at this stage I would call on them to engage on the issues. There are important issues of academic freedom and the perception of academic freedom at stake.

You will see that the action proposed involves considerable damages. It was certainly not my intention in taking this action to make money. But it is often part of victim psychology to downplay the injury to one self and drawing up the list of damages does bring out the scale of what happened.

But what concerns me more at this point is the impact of what happened on academic freedom in general. For this reason, should this action be successful, my intention as regards any monetary awards is as follows. After the costs of the case and immediate damages to me are covered, I will have my lawyers set up an academic freedom trust fund into which I will put any punitive damages and damages for breach of academic freedom. This fund will be used to promote academic freedom."