Animal rights activists target UBC

The University of British Columbia’s research office is under fire from animal rights activists for using animals in university-funded research.

It all started with an article published in January 2008 in UBC’s student newspaper, the Ubyssey. The article claimed UBC’s animal care centre “annually distributes some 100,000 creatures, both large and small, to dozens of UBC affiliated research projects.”

The piece caught the attention of animal rights activists, who founded a group called Stop UBC Animal Research (STOP).

Scott Macrae, executive director of public affairs at UBC, said these projects are medical research projects and the “vast majority” of the animals are rats or mice.

STOP’s spokesperson, Brian Vincent, said the animals also include mice, pigs, rats and cats. 

Vincent said animal research is dangerous because “it gives an impression that a particular product is safe because it’s been tested on animals” but tests do not translate to how the product affects humans.

“[STOP] believes that the public has the right to know what is happening at UBC so they can make an informed decision if they want to support the university,” Vincent said. He said the projects were funded by taxpayers, students and individual contributors. 

However, Vincent said he believes the main issue is the ethical treatment of animals.

“We only do it because we’re required to do it,” Macrae said. Because of the university’s funding allocations, animal research is a requirement before other tests can be done, he said.

UBC staff recently received an email from John Hepburn, vice-president (research), warning of “animal rights activity.”

“I encourage you to remain vigilant and familiarize yourself with university resources available to help mitigate potentially unpleasant and violent situations,” Hepburn wrote.

Vincent said Hepburn’s email was “inflammatory” and “a way to shut down scrutiny and criticism.” 

Vincent said STOP has acted peacefully, by submitting Freedom of Information requests, downloading published papers from UBC’s medical website, and putting up posters – none of these actions illegal or requiring the “hysteria that UBC is trying to generate.”

While Macrae acknowledges such email, he said “there is no link made” between STOP and the email.  He said animal activists had used firebombs and violent protest methods in the past and it was a “necessary precaution.”

Like any other university that uses animal research, UBC follows national standards as set out by the Canadian Council for Animal Care (CCAC), Macrae said.

Gilly Griffin, CCAC’s guidelines director, said in an email, “UBC is in compliance with CCAC’s guidelines and policies because they have a certificate of good animal practice.”

Vincent calls the CCAC a “quasi-government body” because its assessments are not public information. He said he has concerns about its effectiveness because animal research in Canada “is not regulated, unlike in the United States.” 

Griffin said the CCAC is “bound by a confidential relationship with the institution . . . [encouraging] continual improvement,” as opposed to the U.S., “where institutions tend to be more reticent to mention any difficulties.”

Hepburn could not be reached for comment.