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UBC researchers concerned over animal activists

One scientist allegedly threatened in her home

By Arshy Mann - The Ubyssey 

Nov 15


Rocks were removed after animal activists demanded UBC expose its research practices. Photo by Geoff Lister (The Ubyssey)

VANCOUVER (CUP) - A university-wide email and the removal of rocks around a research building are both part of the University of British Columbia's response to the surge of interest around their animal research program.

On Oct. 25, John Hepburn, UBC's vice-president of research, sent out a broadcast email to all UBC students, faculty and staff defending the university against 'misleading information' that they believe is being spread by STOP UBC Animal Research.

'A group of activists is campaigning to end animal research at UBC by distributing misleading information in an attempt to recruit people to their cause,' the email said. 'They have succeeded in gaining some media attention and we expect to see more.

'Animal activists use shock tactics in an effort to gain public sympathy via news media. In other parts of the world, such sensationalist tactics have escalated to violence against researchers, and in North Vancouver earlier this month a group called the Animal Liberation Front resorted to acts of vandalism against an individual in the fur trade.'

Hepburn was referring to Eugene Klein, the operator of Capilano Furs, whose home was vandalized on Thanksgiving Sunday. His house was tarred and his son's girlfriend's tires were slashed. The ALF, a self-described animal liberation group that uses illegal tactics that include vandalism and arson, took credit for the attack on their website.

Brian Vincent, the spokesperson for STOP, said that it was unfair for the university to associate his group with the ALF.

'Why throw that out there? Clearly it's to whip up hysteria. He paints a broad brush that all animal advocates are this way,' Vincent said. 'And for him to imply that we are associated with those kinds of activities is flat wrong.

'However, I think [the email] shows the effectiveness of our campaign. If UBC didn't take us seriously and didn't think we were tarnishing the university's reputation, they wouldn't be sending out an email.'

Hepburn said the email was sent out in response to 'researchers [who] were getting concerned that UBC wasn't defending them.'

In addition, Hepburn said that he knows of at least one UBC neuroscientist who has been threatened, although he only found out about the incident after the broadcast email had been sent out.

'The context of the call is important: This particular incident was a late-night 'we know where you live' call from an unidentifiable harasser, not a professional inquiry during office hours,' said Hepburn.

He went on to say that it 'occurred after the STOP campaign was publicly underway,' and that 'a concern is that STOP's activities, while legitimate to date, will incite people capable of illegal activities.'

Vincent, however, did not entirely trust Hepburn's claim that a professor was threatened. 'I don't know if that's true,' he said. 'This is a very common tactic that universities use to deflect attention away from the real issue. And the real issue is that UBC is using taxpayer dollars to conduct experiments on animals behind closed doors with little public scrutiny. '[However] if someone did make such a call, I certainly would condemn that.' Hepburn's broadcast email appears to reflect a new-found fear throughout parts of the research community at UBC.

In an internal departmental email obtained by The Ubyssey, Gary MacIsaac, the director of IT services for the psychology department, told faculty and students to keep objects away from the psychology building for fear they could be used to vandalize it.

'A large rock has been sitting by the NE rear door of the building. With some of the issues around campus it's been suggested we not leave rocks around where they can be pitched through windows or jam doors open after hours. So this rock will disappear -- preferably not to be replaced by another.'

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