B.C. university criticized for hosting anti-vaccine summit
Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013 8:50AM EDT
Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. is being condemned by its own faculty for renting space to a controversial anti-vaccine conference.
At SFU’s Harbour Centre campus on Tuesday, the Vaccine Resistance Movement held a summit that it called a “transparent discussion” among doctors and researchers.
Ahead of the gathering, SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences issued a statement disavowing itself from the event and decrying the group’s use of university facilities as inappropriate.
“We are deeply concerned that the public may interpret this as an indication that SFU supports the perspective of the VRM. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the faculty said in a statement issued last week.
Members of the Vaccine Resistance Movement question the safety of vaccines, suggesting they are the cause of autism and numerous other temporary and permanent disabilities. Their claims, however popular, have been discredited by health care professionals for years.
SFU’s dean of health services, John O’Neil, told CTV British Columbia he feared the event merely propagated misguided and anti-scientific views on vaccination while downplaying the proven life-saving benefits.
“This event simply is not an open debate on the safety of vaccines. It’s simply a one-sided perspective on risks that have been shown scientifically time and again simply don’t exist,” O’Neil said. “There is no connection between vaccines and autism.”
He also worried that the university lent legitimacy to the cause by renting out university space to the group.
“They could have rented anywhere in the city, but they chose SFU Harbour Centre because it gives them credibility in the public eye,” O’Neil said.
He says the forum is misleading and dangerous and had no place in a university setting, noting that a number of illness outbreaks such as whooping cough and measles have been linked to children who had not been immunized.
Chanelle MacIntyre, a mother of two who attended the sparsely-attended summit, said she came because she had grown uneasy about what she has heard about vaccinations.
“I’m just in this decision-making process right now and it’s so hard. Because you love your kids and you feel you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” MacIntyre told CTV News.
SFU president Andrew Petter defended the decision to rent space for the event, saying the school encourages free debate.
He said his personal view is that the movement’s message is “completely wrong” but he defended their right to voice it.
“Its views are wrong and they should be disregarded, but I think the best way to expose them is to challenge those views, not the university,” Petter said.
O’Neil says he takes the president’s point but believes the university made a mistake.
“I agree with the president: we want to promote freedoms speech and free debate on issues. But we should not be renting our name while we rent the space,” he said.
The Centre for Inquiry, a non-profit group of academics and scientists that promotes the causes of science, is calling on Simon Fraser to make a clear public statement about the overwhelming medical evidence in support of vaccination, and disavowing the message of the Vaccine Resistance Movement.
“We're very concerned that when a group like this has a talk at SFU which is prestigious university it gives it more legitimacy than it actually deserves,” the group’s Ethan Clow told CTV News.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Shannon Paterson