21 June 2008

Harper Government muzzles Chief Public Health Officer

On June 6th, 2008, the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada quietly added the 2008 report by Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr David Butler-Jones. Normally, as noted in this release by Liberals Dr. Carolyn Bennett and Dr. Ruby Dhalla, such a report to Canadians from a senior public official would be accompanied by news conferences and press advisories.

“The Conservatives sought to bury Dr. Butler-Jones’ report, which offered five recommendations for government action, including the pressing need to reduce poverty,” said Dr. Dhalla. “In particular, the report calls for further examination of income redistribution policies, programs and initiatives so that all families have the resources needed for healthy child development.

“It seems clear that the views of Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer are not compatible with the ideology of his political bosses... Muzzling the man who wrote the report is the next best thing to withholding it,” said Dr. Dhalla.

“Also at issue here is the continuing - and disturbing - trend of this government in its disrespect of senior officials and experts tasked with defending the interests of Canadians,” said Dr. Bennett. “We do Canadians no favour by hiding the truth from them...”

But the issue is worse than mere muzzling. There has been misrepresentation.

Compare the CPHO's report to this June 19th item appearing on the Canada News Centre website. You will find the report to have been given a positive gloss and only the most innocuous quotes taken from Butler-Jones.

“While most Canadians enjoy good to excellent health, as a result of social, economic and environmental factors, some Canadians are less healthy than others", said Butler-Jones... “There are many things we can do - both individually and collectively - to create the conditions that are the foundation of good health.”

The Report identifies Canadians’ income, education, environment; health behaviours (including diet and exercise); and social supports from family, friends and communities among the variety of factors determining how healthy we are...

Dr. Butler-Jones added: “The good news is that different jurisdictions and sectors - including the public health sector - have been working together and independently, applying the growing knowledge and experience of what affects our health and quality of life to reduce social and health inequalities.”

The bad news isn't mentioned and the article is written so blandly as to dissuade people from wanting to check out the report themselves. I urge people to do so. Our Chief Public Health Officer has some important things to share with us about health inequalities and the state of our access to choices for promoting health, including this, taken from A few words from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, a short Preface to the report on the PHAC website:

There are Canadians in every corner of the country who continue to experience high rates of injury, chronic or infectious diseases and addictions. These individuals are at a higher risk of poor health and premature death. They are also more likely to need the health-care system for what are largely preventable health issues. Poor health also results in higher rates of absenteeism and lowers productivity in our workplaces.

While certain disadvantaged segments of the population have poorer health than most of us, none of us is immune to the health inequalities that limit our potential as individuals and as a nation. For this reason, my first report focuses on inequalities in health. With few exceptions, the evidence shows that people with better incomes, better education and better social supports enjoy better health than those with fewer social and economic opportunities.

This is NOT a message that the Harper government wants to get out, since it challenges Conservative ideology.

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