Impact Ethics

Human Research Participant Protection in Canada

In Canada, the responsibility for the protection of human research participants rests with the Panel on Research Ethics (the Panel or PRE). PRE is an interdisciplinary and pluralistic advisory body, which reports to CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC regarding the promotion of ethical research involving humans. Both the governance model and the policies concerning the oversight of human research participants have been controversial. Researchers at Novel Tech Ethics (NTE) believe that the reporting relationship between the Panel and the federal funders represents an important structural conflict of interest about which we continue to advocate for change. Research ethics guidelines should be under the authority of an oversight body that is independent of the federal research agencies.

In 2005 a meeting on the oversight of research involving humans, which was grounded in the original Tri-Council Policy Statement, resulted in the formation of an Experts Committee for Human Research Participant Protection in Canada. This meeting, which became known as the ‘Sponsors Table’, was organized by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and included the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada (AUCC), Health Canada, and the three federal research granting agencies (CIHR, SSHRC, and NSERC). Participants at the Sponsors Table struck the Committee in order to examine and evaluate a range of governance models for the oversight of ethics in human research.

In June 2008, the Experts Committee for Human Research Participant Protection in Canada released its final report [PDF - 220 KB]. This report outlines outstanding issues in the regulation of research involving humans, from failures in Research Ethics Board (REB) members' knowledge and training to the lack of standards for monitoring research in the field. The committee made a progressive recommendation for the creation of a Canadian Council for the Protection of Human Research Participants (CCPHRP) to operate collaboratively with, but independent of, those involved in the conduct or review of research. The Council would be responsible for the inter-related functions of accreditation, policy and education. The report's recommendations include a comprehensive framework for an accountable, transparent and effective organization. Jocelyn Downie was a member of the Committee.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the above link to the report, little reference to the committee's hard work can now be found.

Currently, PRE promotes and supports the implementation and interpretation of the currentTri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct of Research Involving Humans, 2nd edition (TCPS2). Read further about the development and history of the TCPS, as well as NTE researchers' engagement with public consultations and general reviews of this guidance document.