Legal Action Cited as a Threat to Freedom of Speech
By Elizabeth Church, education reporter
Globe & Mail: December 1st, 2008
The legal wrangling between Toronto physician and researcher Nancy Olivieri and Apotex Inc. is continuing after more than a decade, with a new lawsuit by the drug maker raising fresh charges it is trying to muzzle academic freedom.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers says the action, launched last month, is an attempt to silence Dr. Olivieri that should concern the public because it represents an attack on freedom of expression. That's because the suit lists a broad range of examples - among them attending conferences, chairing panels and having an entry in Wikipedia - that it argues breach a 2004 settlement that required both parties "not to disparage each other."
"What is so worrisome is that Apotex seems to be trying to define disparagement so broadly," said Jim Turk, executive director of the association. "In Dr. Olivieri's case, it means not only can she not talk about the factual things that happened to her, she can't participate in conferences on academic freedom where there is no reference to her case at all. To be threatened with serious legal action in this way essentially means the only option is to be silent."
The lawyer representing Apotex could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The dispute between the doctor and the generic drug maker goes back to the mid-1990s, when Dr. Olivieri participated in studies on deferiprone, a drug the company developed to treat a rare blood disorder. She expressed concerns about the drug which "other experts in the field [advised Apotex] were unfounded," says the company's most recent statement of claim.
The claim says the doctor began a media campaign to cast herself as "the whistleblower hero in a saga against an evil drug company," in order to gain public sympathy. In 2000, she began a defamation action against the company and others, and Apotex launched a countersuit, all of which were addressed in the 2004 settlement.
The new action argues Dr. Olivieri has since been involved in a list of speaking engagements and publications in which she "either directly disparaged Apotex and/or deferiprone or acquiesced or consented to the disparagement." It asks for $500,000 in damages. None of the charges have been proved in court.
The suit lists 35 examples of what it describes as breaches to the settlement, including an entry in Wikipedia that describes her "protracted struggle" with the company and a website posting that promotes a movie script in development on the story.
The new action comes at the same time as Dr. Olivieri continues to work through the courts to have the terms of the 2004 settlement enforced. On Friday, Mr. Justice George Strathy of the Ontario Superior Court ordered Apotex to perform all the terms of the settlement, including a $800,000 payment to the doctor, a sum that until last week was not public.
Paul Michell, Dr. Olivieri's counsel, said he plans to file a response to the new suit by the deadline next week. "There is a disagreement about what is disparaging and that will presumably have to be decided in this new action," he said.
Copyright Globe & Mail 2008