Tories justified in firing nuclear watchdog, federal court rules

Linda Keen looking at appealing decision

Ottawa Citizen: Brendan Kennedy - April 11, 2009

Ottawa • The Harper government was justified in its firing of Canada’s nuclear safety watchdog, a federal court has ruled.

The Federal Court of Canada this week dismissed Linda Keen’s case, which argued that her 2008 firing as president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission was unlawful because the government did not prove misconduct or due cause.

Reached Saturday at her home, Keen said the court’s decision sends the message that non-partisan positions such as hers are “politically perilous.”

“That’s something,” she said. “To think all people who head commissions ... can be fired without reason.”

Keen was fired from the commission’s top job by the Harper government in January 2008 after the commission forced a shutdown at a Chalk River reactor that produces vital isotopes for medical uses.

The ensuing four-week shutdown caused a critical shortage of life-saving medical isotopes and prompted the government to persuade Parliament to override the nuclear regulator and allow the reactor to be restarted. At one point during debate in the House of Commons, Mr. Harper characterized Ms. Keen as a Liberal party hack.

A month later, the government fired her as commission president in the middle of the night, stripping her of her 2005 order-in-council appointment, which was a five-year renewal of her original 2000 appointment. She was instead demoted to full-time commissioner, what she called an “artificial creation.”

Keen’s lawyers contended that the fundamental issue for the court is whether the federal cabinet can dismiss the head of an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal because she refused three ministerial directives to “illegally” restart an aging isotope-producing reactor at Chalk River before its operational safety could be demonstrated.

In dismissing the case, the court ruled that her removal from the presidency was fair.

Keen, who is represented by the law firm Nelligan O’Brien Payne, said she and her lawyers are reviewing the court’s decision and considering an appeal.

“We’re looking at it right now,” she said, but added that she’s already spent 14 months and $100,000 of her own money fighting the case. “My first priority is my family.”

When she first began her fight against her dismissal, Keen said the case had broader implications for the public service.

“From the very beginning it was as much ‘What does this mean for independent regulators?’ than a personal thing,” she said. “It really was a huge principle for me.”

Keen said the decision may impact the public’s trust and confidence in all regulatory bodies and commissions.

“It says (the government) can tell you what to do or you’re fired,” she said.


Mike Buckthought
National Climate Change Campaigner
Sierra Club Canada
+1.613.241.4611 x235

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