Fired Quebec scientist blew the whistle on pesticide lobby influence

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Fired Quebec scientist blew the whistle on pesticide lobby influence

I keep forgetting to post about this important story. Here's an article from March - but I think there are new developments today, from the ombudsman's office. Stay tuned!

Quebec government scientist Louis Robert was fired from his job after a 32-year career for exposing industry influence in public research on pesticides


In May 2009, Quebec government scientist Louis Robert was 15 minutes away from entering a conference room to give a lecture about phosphorus when he got a phone call from his bossordering him to call it off.

His boss threatened to move Robert into another office to perform administrative tasks if he dared to proceed with the lecture.

A year earlier, a senior public servant summoned Robert to a meeting at a restaurant with his boss, in which the scientist was told to cancel an on-camera appearance with journalists to talk about the management of fertilizers.

The interview was scheduled to be four days away, but it was cancelled and the journalists were then forced to send their questions to the ministry to proceed with their reporting.

Both incidents were recounted in an email sent to National Observer by Robert's public sector union.

Robert was previously employed at Quebec's Agriculture Department for three decades.

All in all, the scientist was personally ordered to cancel these types of appearances "five to six" other times over the past few years, according to his union.

Throughout this period, the union said he was trying to alert his superiors about attempts by industry to suppress publicly-funded science on the health effects of pesticides.

Phosphorus is a mineral that can pollute water as a result of runoff from fertilizers used in agriculture.An overabundance can lead to the growth of toxic bacteria, for example on Canadian lakes.

His supervisors gave him the brush-off. Eventually he leaked a document to Radio-Canada, feeling he had an obligation to inform the public.

He gave a journalist at the public broadcaster an internal note. This document revealed a crisis unfolding in the provincial grain research body, Centre de recherche sur les grains (CÉROM).

The leak triggered an internal investigation. Robert was suspended on Sept. 12 and put in limbo for over four months, the union says, until he was fired on Jan. 24.



Well that was fast - the ombudsman's report was made public today - followed quickly by this:


The Agriculture Ministry's deputy minister, Marc Dion, resigned after the report was released Thursday, Radio-Canada confirmed, and Premier François Legault has offered Robert his job back.

This is not over. After Louis Robert was fired in January, he continued to speak out. In April of this year:

Quebec heaviest user of chemical fertilizers in North America, says fired government whistleblower

From that article:


Quebec is the only province where industry representatives sit and vote on the fertilizer recommendations committee, Robert points out. He said his own work shows that the committee recommended the lowest use of fertilizers between 1994 and 2003 — years when the association representing fertilizer manufacturers did not have representatives at the table.

Robert, who won't say whether he'd return to his post in the Ministry of Agriculture were he to be reinstated, is now running for the presidency of the professional order governing agronomists in the province — the Ordre des agronomes du Québec.

He's campaigning on a commitment to separate the roles of pesticide consultants and sellers.