The door at the bottom of the staircase was locked, leaving the elevator as the only way to access the basement of Arts and Science II. Thankfully, the ‘B’ button was not restricted and the elevator went down. When the doors opened across from the boiler room, it was a situation of concrete, pipes and more locked doors. There was a map affixed onto the wall marking room locations, yet there was a large empty, unlabeled section of the basement. The University of British Columbia Okanagan’s very own animal research facility.
UBCO has seen much growth in its five years of existence. New facilities, centres and residences are constructed every year, usually with a trumpeted public reception. However, the construction of the In Vivo Research Facility has been quiet as a mouse.
In attempt to gain information, numerous officials were contacted, and each referred us on to someone else. The common issue was of safety for the researchers involved with the project as well as the security of the future animals of the facility. At UBC Vancouver, controversy over their Animal Care Centre has escalated and has been widely publicized. Tension surrounds the sensitive issue, with researchers claiming to have received threatening calls in their homes.
Animal advocacy groups have been pressuring the university to fully disclose information about animal testing done at the animal research facility over the past ten years. They want to see the guidelines UBC uses to ensure ethical treatment of animals, as well as photos and videos of experiments. When those weren’t disclosed, controversy arose regarding transparency, as well as implications to the safety of the researchers and a definitive increase in whistle blowing and reports concerning Vancouver’s facility. “When these things happen, it does starts to make the University look bad,” says Lindsay Diehl, a grad student currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. “I would be very concerned if the same problems got moved up to UBCO. The fact is that they are not addressing the issues and this is very serious.”
Although growth and development is unavoidable for a university, the construction of a new animal care facility on UBCO’s campus has been cause for speculation, but it’s been on the books since 2008.
For building development within this campus, plans are required to go through four tiers of board approval. In February 2008, the Health and Science building went for the first request for approval, and in April 2008, the Arts and Science II building went for its third stage of approval. Neither report mentions the construction of the animal care centre. In November 2008, a revision of the Arts and Science II third stage of approval came back before the board of governors. It is this report that includes the new animal care facility. Under ‘Current Project Status’ the report reads:
“At the request of UBC Okanagan, $2.0M of the approved Arts and Science budget will be allocated for the fit of an animal care facility (not previously budgeted) within the Arts and Science 2 building.
In addition, the animal care program originally intended for the UBC Okanagan Health Science Centre will be relocated and consolidated with the animal care facility in the Arts and Science 2 building. In exchange for this relocation, the Health Science project (AVED Funding) will transfer $1.0M to the Arts and Science budget to offset their portion of the fit out costs for the animal care facility.
Accordingly, the total budget now available for fit out the animal care facility on the Arts and Science 2 building is $3.0M.
In addition to the $2.0M to be allocated to the animal care facility, it has been determined that a further positive variance of $2.0M is available.”
The Nov 2010 Capital Projects budget files show that Arts and Science II funding sources are still to be identified, for the required amount of $3.2. Allegedly, the process for building In Vivo began in 2005, when the campus was transferred from OUC to UBC.
Scott Reid is the acting facility manager for In Vivo, currently a volunteer position. Reid is a biology professor who researches comparative physiology. Although it is not well known, Reid points out that there is already animal research being performed on this campus. “We have an existing animal care facility and we have students who work with animals at all levels. We have students who work with wildlife…animals just not in the research facility on campus.” According to Reid, the new facility’s construction is meant to meet the growing needs of education and research experience that is already occurring on campus.
The situation in Vancouver has been problematic, according to Reid, and he said it was in the best interest of the researchers that the location of the facility was to remain anonymous, to prevent a dangerous situation.
“The animal care facilities on any research campus are designed with a couple of things in mind; one is to insure the health and safety of the animals in the facility and also the health, safety and security of the people that work in the facility,” he said. “You normally would not find such facilities labeled on any map, for the protection of both those things.”
The new facility is to be completed for September, pending smooth construction. The construction of an animal research facility must go through many processes, with all aspects being looked upon by organizations such as the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC).
Reid contends that the animals will be treated fairly and ethically which is required to retain reliable data. “If you are going to [use animals], you have to guarantee that they are absolutely healthy. If the animals are not healthy, then you cant trust the data and you want to be sure that the data is of the upmost quality.”
“If you are going to do animal research, you need to guarantee that your animals are kept in conditions that promote their health. Those are the guidelines in which the university, through the CCAC, will instruct researchers to operate.” The students of UBCO will have access to the facility only if they have gone through the appropriate certification. “For example, if [an honours student] is working with a faculty member who uses mice, rats, fish or frogs, those students would have access, but they would have to be appropriately trained to be in the facility.” If the student is inexperienced, supervision would also be in place.
“There will be a permanent manager at that facility when it comes on line and it depends on the level of experience of the student and it also depends on the supervisory skills or methods of the supervisor. More advance students, like graduate students, masters or Ph.D students or post [doctoral students] would likely have a level of clearance that would allow them in there to access their animals.” Programs with access to the new facility will include medical, biology as well as psychology.
Reid explains that if someone wants to perform research on animals, “they have to apply to the Animal Care Committee, located in Vancouver, with an animal use program with which must be approved. If their plans aren’t appropriate, if the questions they are asking aren’t valid scientifically or the conditions aren’t appropriate for keeping the animal,” they will be denied.
Reid advised us to speak with UBC Vancouver Director of Animal Care, Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark, who referred us to UBC’s public relations representation, Scott Macrae, who would not reply to our questions before press time.
The Animal Care Centre website presents the facility as if they are transparent, relying on the claim to committees and council that are in place to ensure ethical practices. However, the challenge in getting to the information of what goes on behind those locked doors is something even the faculty of this institution face.
Dr. Jodey Castricano is a professor here at UBCO. She is also the Coordinator of Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Creative & Critical Studies; serves on the UBCO Senate and sits on the DVC Committee for Human Rights and Equity as well as on the Senate Research and Learning Committee. Two years ago she was appointed a Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics at Oxford.
Castricano was denied access to the animal research facilities that are currently being used on campus because the possibility of danger to the animals and to the safety of the researchers.
“As a fellow and with publications and research presentations [having] to do with these very topics which include the ethics of use of animals in experiments and laboratories, I felt I was more informed than the so called ‘fanatics’ that are being referred to in the news.” She was not surprised at the result of her denial, but was hoping that her conquest would open the issues of accessibility, accountability and transparency.
Castricano attempted to retain information regarding the animal research facilities to justify its acting in the public interest, given that arts research often must stand to the same standard. “Within arts and humanities and with the funding bodies that we are accountable to when we ask for research money, more and more we are being called upon to justify the relevance of our research to the public interest,” she said.
A background in kinesiology that involved studies in biology gave her privy to an animal facility. It was there that some of the issues of animal research came up for her. “I don’t consider myself an uninformed person but I certainly do have concern over, for example, research being done in my name that has absolutely no relevance to human welfare at all,” she said. “I often see so much of this research as being so over funded and driven by a reasons that actually have no benefit.” It is this experimental research, considered ‘pure science,’ that raises many questions. “What we are doing is inflicting suffering and death on sentient creatures, just for curiosity’s sake.”
Castricano was also worried whether animals are a necessary sacrifice for the result. “I have concerns because history tells me that invasiveness inevitably involves forms of cruelty and abuse and then more euphemism in terms of the word sacrifice,” she said.
“We default to the word ‘humane treatment’. We see in any history of philosophy and science that that word is always used and over used and deployed in so many ways. What does it do? What is its function? They talk about it in the protocol, but at the same time if you go a little bit deeper and look at the material that comes out of those laboratories, the word ‘humane’ there seems to be a misnomer.”
When asked why the students should care about animal research being done within UBCO, Castricano believes they should be asking themselves. “I think that as members of the university community, it behooves you to know what the extent of the work that is being done in your name as students and members of this community. I find that when faculty want to find something out and are not wanted on the voyage, that ought to have a trickle effect onto the students as well.”
“There is just a kind of claim that those who are not involved do not understand and maybe that’s not quite good enough.”
with files from Andrew Bates