The Alberta Doctor Who Claimed Tar Sands Are Connected to Cancer Was Fired

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One of the Canada’s most outspoken advocates on the ties between the tar sands and adverse health effects has been dismissed from his job without notice.

Earlier this month Dr. John O’Connor received a brief email informing him of his termination from the Fort Chipewyan (Fort Chip) Health Center where he was working remotely as a consultant. O’Connor started his position at Fort Chip in 2000 and early on, he started noticing abnormal amounts of rare cancers of the bile ducts among his patients. This included cholangiocarcinoma, the same type of cancer that killed O’Connor’s father a decade prior.

Fort Chip is located 300 km north of the heart of Alberta’s tar sands, Fort McMurray, and O’Connor raised concerns that these rare cancers could be linked to industry and pushed for further research.

“There’s definitely a relationship between development and industry and the abnormalities that are being detected. And when you look at the population that’s been most impacted in Fort Chip, you would definitely figure it’s related to consumption of traditional foods that have been impacted by industry,” O’Connor told VICE in an interview last year. “But there are other people that got sick that wouldn’t have been around long enough to have had all that level of exposure.”

“There’s nothing clear-cut about this at all. It emphasizes an underlying need for a comprehensive health study.”

Dr. O’Connor’s whistleblowing raised what can only be described as a shit storm among pro-oil advocates and the doctor experienced one hell of a backlash. He was labeled as an alarmist and charlatan and Health Canada reacted to these claims, and others, by charging O’Connor with four accounts of misconduct. These including blocking access to files, billing irregularities, and causing “undue alarm.” If found guilty, O’Connor would have been stripped of his license to practice. Eventually though, the charges were dropped.

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