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Animal researchers targeted
By Paul-Mark Rendon
University researchers across the country who experiment on animals have been warned of a possible mail terrorist campaign using envelopes lined with razor blades.
Patricia Guyda, president of Canadians for Health Research, a Quebec-based health research advocacy group, said a mid-September posting on an animal rights web site prompted the CHR to warn Canadian researchers. The web site stated several researchers in the United States had been targeted with envelopes booby-trapped with razor blades.
Although no Canadians appear on any list, she said the CHR circulated a notice over the past two weeks to researchers at McGill University, Queen's University, the universities of Toronto, Manitoba, Calgary, Ottawa, Guelph, Alberta and Western Ontario, reminding them to be extra vigilant since they are potential targets for animal rights violence.
George Carruthers, chair of Western's department of medicine, said although he was unaware of the circular, he would advise researchers to heed warnings of potential danger. "To the best of my knowledge there has been no hard evidence, but we're urging caution in the opening of letters," he said. "We don't take these situations lightly because these people do have a track record for violence. We're just being cautious."
Sgt. Andre Guertin, media spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said the RCMP is concerned about this threat reoccurring in Canada as there is presently a similar case before the courts in British Columbia.
Guertin said the RCMP is currently investigating a similar situation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S.. "We're aware of the threat and we're investigating where we have jurisdiction. As far as I know, no charges have been laid," he said.
The warning throws a spotlight on the issue of experimental animal rights, said Jack Bend, director of research at Western's faculty of medicine and dentistry, who defended the need for research on animals. "The first thing is, people are genetically diverse and to understand key points, you have to be able to study systems where the genetic background is identical, which is only possible in animals," he said.
But Jacqui Barnes, a director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, a passive animal rights group, said animal rights come before the need for animals in research. "We see animals and humans to some extent being on an equal level," she said.
"We believe we need to educate people about what's going on in laboratories. Even though these labs are publicly funded, all their information is confidential. There is no law to protect lab animals, just guidelines that are peer reviewed and therefore voluntary. I would hazard to say we're against research on all non-consenting beings and that includes all animals," she added.
However, Bend said animal research plays an integral role in advancing medical knowledge and ultimately helping humans. "The reality is if you have a detailed knowledge base, you can go ahead and use it, but the only way to get that detailed knowledge base is through basic science. We're very much in need of animal models," he said.