Skip to main content

Canada's former nuclear regulator is taking her battle with the Conservative government to Federal Court, asking a judge to find that her firing was unlawful and to reinstate her.

In her application filed with the court and released yesterday, Linda Keen says the Harper government failed to give her any specific reasons for her dismissal, or even an opportunity to respond to broad allegations of misconduct.

Ms. Keen was fired from her position as president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission late in the evening of Jan. 15, the night before she was due to appear at a parliamentary committee examining the shutdown of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.'s Chalk River research reactor.

The reactor supplies more than half of North America's medical isotopes, which are used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and heart disease.

Separately yesterday, the senior nuclear scientist at Hamilton's McMaster University said his group is eager to upgrade its operation to be able to provide the same key medical isotope that is currently only available in Canada from Chalk River.

Chris Heysel, McMaster's director of nuclear operations, said the university's research reactor already provides clinical supplies of an iodine isotope, but could also produce molybdenum-99, which is more commonly used than iodine.

He said McMaster would work with AECL and MDS Nordion as part of Ottawa's effort to ensure security of supply in the event of another lengthy shutdown at Chalk River. But he couldn't give a price tag.

In mid-December, the government - with the support of opposition parties - passed legislation ordering the reactor to be restarted, despite the CNSC's safety concerns.

Independent nuclear experts assured the government that AECL was operating the research reactor safely.

Led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who attacked her as a Liberal appointee, Conservative MPs blamed Ms. Keen for the crisis, saying she had been unmindful of the health ramifications as she focused on what they called a minor safety issue.

In her application yesterday, Ms. Keen said the government "erred in law" and "violated the principles of natural justice and/or procedural fairness" when it abruptly removed her as president.

Opposition parties have condemned her firing as yet another example of the government's heavy-handed approach to independent commissions and advisers.

Conservatives say the termination was justified because Ms. Keen displayed poor judgment by requiring the reactor to remain shut down in late November and early December despite concerns from the medical community about the growing shortage of medically necessary isotopes.

Bloc Québécois MP Claude DeBellefeuille said the government was determined to blame Ms. Keen - rather than AECL - from the outset, and that her firing was "unjustified."

In the Commons yesterday, Liberal environment critic David McGuinty said Ms. Keen's dismissal "has already cost Canadians' confidence in nuclear safety in this country and around the world.

"How much is it going to cost Canadians for this government to defend itself against its unbelievable incompetence and stupidity?" he demanded.

Conservative MP David Anderson, parliamentary secretary for Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, said he could no longer comment on Ms. Keen's performance because the matter is before the courts.

But he said the government acted to protect the health of Canadians by legislating the reactor start-up and the production of isotopes.