... and Barbara McDougall's bloody hand is on the flush handle!

Canadian PM can either stand by and do nothing OR he can throw us some life-jackets! So far, he's doing a great job of the former.

For the last 5 weeks, an ongoing drama has been unfolding around the world, with a focus on Africa...specifically, Senegal.

A 3-day meeting is scheduled to take place in the West African nation's capital, Dakar, starting on April 20, 2010. The two main participants:

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC), an international aid organization which describes itself, at www.idrc.ca , as "...a Canadian Crown corporation that works in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world in their search for the means to build HEALTHIER (emphasis ours), more equitable, and more prosperous societies"; and

The African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), a network of 40 anti-tobacco groups from 26 African nations.

Trips were being planned, flight tickets were purchased, hotel reservations were made; anti-tobacco activists from all over Africa and elsewhere were looking forward to fruitful, productive meetings, as well as a chance to 'see the sights' in and around Dakar.

Everything was fine, until a bombshell was revealed: On March 5, it was discovered that the Chairman of the Board of the IDRC is...wait for it, A TOBACCO EXECUTIVE!

That's right: No need to reread it, you read it right: The chairman of a Canadian international 'aid' organization -- which is, supposedly, concerned about the health and well-being of developing nations -- is a tobacco executive! IDRC Chair Barbara Jean McDougall is also on the Board of Directors of Imperial Tobacco.

A little background info about McDougall:

  • Born in 1937 (she's currently 72);
  • She became a lawyer and was a high-level Conservative Member of Parliament (St. Paul's) from 1984 - 93, during which time she held several portfolios. Most contradictorily -- or complimentarily, depending on your view of her work with Imperial Tobacco -- she was Minister Responsible for the Status of Women (1986 - 90) and, simultaneously (for the last month of that role), acting Minister of State for Youth. For those of you who are not familiar with tobacco issues: Despite its vehement denials, the tobacco industry specifically -- and extremely aggressively -- targets those it views as society's most vulnerable; women and youth...most tragically, now, with a special focus on women and youth in Third World countries;
  • In 2000, McDougall was made an Officer of the Order of Canada;
  • She is currently an advisor for the Toronto law firm Aird and Berlis LLP; and
  • We don't have any evidence one way or the other but we're guessing that, like most tobacco executives, she doesn't smoke...and sure as hell doesn't want her own kids (or grand-kids/great grand-kids, as the case may be) to smoke, but everybody else's kids -- especially those in developing nations -- are 'fair game' as far as she's concerned.

The discovery of McDougall's high-level position with Big Tobacco has, much to the delight of the tobacco industry, proven to be extremely divisive within the global tobacco control community. Obviously, many of those activists from all over Africa who had made travel arrangements were really looking forward to the 3-day Dakar meeting...and. even after learning of the glaring conflict of interest, still wanted to attend. Even the Board of Directors of ATCA wasn't completely convinced that cancelling the meeting was the right decision, until they came under a great deal of pressure from a quickly-formed, small but determined network of global anti-tobacco activists (including Airspace Action on Smoking and Health), who persuaded ATCA that, despite the very tough "between a rock and a hard place" position they found themselves in, morally/ethically, there really was no choice: ATCA's attendance at the IDRC meeting would effectively destroy the global anti-tobacco movement.

We are happy to report that there have been a couple of recent 'victories' in this battle:

  • On April 1, ATCA asked IDRC for a postponement of the Dakar meeting "until the issue is resolved."
  • In typical blissfully ignorant tobacco industry fashion, on April 2, the IDRC response was that they were going to proceed with the meeting, as if nothing was wrong.
  • On April 6, after a great deal of very deep soul-searching, etc., the ATCA Board unanimously adopted the following decision:

    1) THAT ATCA officially withdraws from co-hosting the ATSA final consultation in Dakar, Senegal with all the ATCA Board members withdrawing from participating in the meeting;

  • 2) THAT in light of the provisions in Article 4.1 of ATCA's constitution, the Board urges all ATCA members not to participate in the meeting.

After sending two e-mails (on Mar 26 & 31) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which, over the last couple of years, has given tens of millions of dollars in grant money to the IDRC), advising them of the new-found conflict of interest, Airspace president Errol Povah received the following as-yet-unverified e-mail from a fellow member of the above-mentioned 'ad hoc' committee (who shall remain anonymous) today:

Congratulations for all your efforts Errol. You were a big part of this result.
Take care

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Media <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: Fri, Apr 9, 2010 at 5:53 PM
Subject: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Statement
To: Media <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

The foundation was recently informed that the chair of the board of our partner, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), has until recently also been a Director of Imperial Tobacco Canada, Ltd. We are deeply disappointed by this revelation and feel this conflict is unacceptable as we work to support meaningful tobacco control programs in Africa. Therefore, we are terminating our tobacco control grant to IDRC, effective immediately. We remain committed to tobacco control work and look forward to continuing to partner with the anti-tobacco community to reduce tobacco use in Africa.

NOTE: As alluded to in the Gates response (which avoids mentioning her by name???), McDougall "has until recently (emphasis ours) also been a Director of Imperial Tobacco, Ltd." According to the IDRC, McDougall's tenure with Imperial Tobacco ended late last month, as if to suggest that it's possible to be a tobacco executive one day and wake up the next day as a non-tobacco executive, complete with a brand new, shiny and/or clear conscience. It doesn't work that way! With a few notable exceptions -- such as industry whistleblowers like Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, Victor Crawford, et al -- ONCE A TOBACCO EXECUTIVE, ALWAYS A TOBACCO EXECUTIVE! McDougall has blood on her hands...and simply leaving Imperial Tobacco won't wash it off!

As wonderful as the response from the Gates Foundation is, there remain many unanswered -- and extremely troubling -- questions, just a few of which appear here:

1) Why have so many key players in this scandal/crisis remained silent?

  • Most notably, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who certainly should have known about McDougall's position with Imperial Tobacco (since 2004) but, in 2007, appointed her to the IDRC anyway!
  • The position the IDRC has taken is actually worse than silence! In its two brief responses to Errol Povah's e-mails (received Mar 16 & 24), the IDRC completely ignores all conflict of interest questions that were posed by Povah and instead, provides a quasi-resume of McDougall, talking about all of the high and mighty positions she has held with a multitude of companies over the years. The IDRC then has the audacity to end the first response with, "IDRC is confident that the Board under [McDougall's] stewardship continues to maintain the highest standard of integrity."...and the second response with, "IDRC remains strongly committed to the issue of tobacco control in the developing world." One can only wonder how words like "integrity" and 'commitment' are defined in the IDRC dictionary!
  • And McDougall herself? Complete unaccountable to anybody silence!
  • The Framework Convention Alliance, a network of more than 350 anti-tobacco groups from more than 100 countries around the world that work collectively to support the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Airspace is extrememly disappointed and gravely concerned about the FCA's silence and complete lack of leadership on this critical matter. If the FCA is not openly and honestly forthcoming with an explanation for its silence very soon, Airspace will withdraw from the FCA. And we suspect many others will follow.
  • Even the response from the Gates Foundation: "...we are terminating our tobacco control grant to IDRC..." raises the question, "Will the Gates Foundation have no qualms about continuing to provide millions in grant money to the tobacco executive-chaired IDRC, as long as that money goes to 'other' (i.e., non tobacco-related) projects?
  • Why haven't we heard a peep about this matter from the World Health Organization? Not a peep!
  • And then there's the media! Povah has contacted several media outlets across Canada, including a few so-called investigative journalists. Again, no interest. Zero!

2) Will Barbara McDougall be removed from the IDRC...either voluntarily or forcefully? And if not, why not?

3) If nothing else, the McDougall scandal hilites the urgent need for policies/laws that require tobacco executives to be completely isolated. Let them choose between being tobacco executives OR being on the Boards of other companies/organizations, BUT NOT BOTH! Since this scandal broke, it's been discovered that McDougall is also an "Honorary Patron" of Genesis Research (www.genesisresearch.org), whose motto is "Advancing women's health." An e-mail sent to that organization almost 2 weeks ago -- again, questioning the serious conflict of interest -- remains unanswered.

4) To what extent, if any, will there be an investigation into the IDRC...to weed out any other tobacco industry 'plants'?

Both the Canadian and global anti-tobacco communities are still afloat, but we're in serious danger of being 'flushed'. The only way we will survive as a movement and beat the Barbara McDougall's of the world is to remain united, strong and vigilant.

To those who call us "extremists", check out Big Tobacco's definition of the word. In previously secret, internal tobacco industry documents, anti-tobacco "EXTREMISTS" are defined as "EFFECTIVE", while "REASONABLE" anti-tobacco activists are "INEFFECTIVE." For those reasons, Big Tobacco definitely prefers to deal with 'reasonable' anti-tobacco activists, while the rest of us are extremely proud to be EXTREMISTS, certainly by the tobacco industry's definition!

Stay tuned; the war continues!