Former wildlife instructor and deer biologist Rod Cumberland is another step closer to getting his day in court.
Eighteen months ago Cumberland was terminated from his job as an educator at the Fredericton-based Maritime College of Forest Technology (MCFT). He launched a lawsuit against the College, alleging administrators wrongfully dismissed him for expressing his opinions about the dangers of the herbicide glyphosate, a chemical sprayed by helicopters and planes on industrial tree plantations across New Brunswick.
Last week the litigation moved a step closer to trial with the parties conducting examinations for discovery and answering questions under oath. While the details are confidential until entered in court, Cumberland’s solicitor Paul Champ of Ottawa stated: “We remain confident that the Maritime College’s dismissal of Mr. Cumberland was unlawful and a reprisal for expressing his opinions on the science of glyphosate. We look forward to bringing this case to trial and securing justice for Rod.” Champ’s firm is known for its work in employment law and freedom of expression.
Cumberland’s position has remained firm, and his resolve unwavering: “I have said from the get-go that this whole thing smells. When I spoke to CBC a year and a half ago I said I was shocked I was terminated, and that the reasons the College provided to claim ‘just cause’ were false and completely baseless.”
At the time, as the retired MCFT Executive Director who had earlier been Cumberland’s boss, I remarked that the only reason for Cumberland’s removal was his outspoken stance on glyphosate: “I too was pressured during my tenure to sanction Rod for publicly questioning the science of glyphosate. But think about it, post-secondary institutions are the very places where balanced perspectives and academic freedom of speech on such topics are most needed.”
I was also fired from my position as a part-time continuing education instructor less than 24 hours after defending Cumberland in public.
Cumberland has insisted for years that independent, peer-reviewed science used by the United Nations’ International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) debunks industry claims the chemical is safe for use, and he has strongly criticized Health Canada’s review of glyphosate for being biased and unscientific.
The debate could have taken a turn much earlier had the Chief Medical Health Officer of New Brunswick, Dr. Eilish Cleary, not been terminated from government. Cleary had announced a study on the toxicity of glyphosate at the New Brunswick Department of Health in 2015 when she was let go “without cause,” receiving a settlement in the process.
Since Cleary’s termination, Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old California man facing terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was awarded damages of $78.5 million in a landmark case in 2018. Johnson used Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate is the active ingredient) while working as a groundskeeper. The California jury determined the weed killer caused Johnson’s cancer and that the pesticide-maker failed to warn him of the health hazards of his exposure. There have been many tens of thousands of court actions against Monsanto in recent years over its glyphosate products.
The last time the issue of glyphosate was raised in the province was in the fall of 2019 when David Coon, Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick presented a resolution calling for an end to glyphosate spraying on Crown Land. At the time all Liberal and Conservative MLAs voted against the resolution, and instead formed a legislative committee to address glyphosate and other environmental issues. The committee disbanded when COVID entered the province and has not met in over 11 months.
New Brunswick spends around $3 million in tax dollars every year spraying glyphosate on roughly 15,000 hectares of (re)forested public land. Cumberland has calculated this removes enough browse to feed approximately 32,000 deer each year, contributing to the steep decline of deer numbers on public land.
The team supporting Cumberland in his legal battle has raised close to $50,000, about half of what is needed to cover legal expenses. As part of an awareness raising campaign the team organized an educational zoom webinar titled “The Human Cost of Glyphosate” on January 26.
When asked where things go from here, Cumberland maintains the Canadian Charter provides the right, and his responsibilities as a certified wildlife biologist provides the responsibility, to speak freely and truthfully about the dangers of glyphosate.
“It’s a long road to justice, and I’m told getting into court may take another year yet. But this is just too important to back away from,” said Cumberland.
Donations to the court case may be made via e-transfer at email@example.com
Gerald Redmond is a member of the Friends of Rod Cumberland.