Despite acknowledging an “oversight” by failing to notice a conflict of interest before commissioning and publishing a report on Quebec’s asbestos industry, Concordia University does not plan to officially retract the report in question.
“The university believes that the actions that have been taken are appropriate given the circumstances. That further investigation or any other action is not necessary or warranted,” said spokesperson Chris Mota. “We are not considering retracting the report.”
The report, published in July, on public relations lessons that can be learned from Quebec’s asbestos industry was written by John Molson School of Business lecturer John Aylen. It aimed to answer whether or not “there can be meaningful dialogue and consensus when facts come up against feelings.”
Aylen argues facts will never trump feelings when it comes to public opinion, and attempts to prove as much by using events in the two years leading up to the Quebec government cancelling the $58-million loan planned for the Jeffrey Mine as an example.
Kathleen Ruff, a senior adviser with the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, took issue with the report for not disclosing that Aylen has repeatedly spoken and written in favour of the asbestos industry. Aylen had in the past been a paid spokesperson for Baljit Chadha, who was the lead proponent of the Jeffrey Mine expansion, and thanks him under a pseudonym in the acknowledgments section of the report.
A letter Ruff and a group of scientists and human-rights advisers wrote to Concordia sparked a review of the report, which led to the university removing it from its website on July 24.
In a response sent to Ruff on Oct. 26, Concordia president Alan Shepard wrote that “a formal inquiry was conducted into this matter.”
“The inquiry revealed that the analysis and disclosure of the author’s previous involvement with the asbestos industry was dealt with inadequately and that a review of some of the process of the Luc Beauregard Centre of Excellence in Communications Research should and will be undertaken,” Shepard’s response reads.
Motta said the university will be assessing the process that allowed the report to be published in the first place. “We’re going to have someone look into this and see what we can do to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
But Ruff said she feels that isn’t enough.
“The reality is that it’s an official report endorsed by Concordia University,” she said. “A report that’s full of false information that will help sell asbestos and promote the misinformation that asbestos is safe.”
“We’re glad they’re not promoting it on their website,” she added, “But they have not retracted it.”
The university has not released any statement or press release about the issue since removing the report from its website.
Ruff wants Concordia to officially retract the report, and explain how it was allowed to be published in the first place.
“This is what reputable scientific publications do, what reputable scientific and academic organizations do,” she said. “When they find there has been wrongdoing, that false information has been published in their name, they take responsibility for it and they make it clear that it is no longer an official report that represents (them).”
When contacted by the Montreal Gazette, Aylen referred the media inquiry to Concordia’s spokesperson.