by Frank Kuin
Public policy commissions and inquiries should give more weight to the
views of community groups if they are to provide truly democratized guidance
to governments on how to regulate issues such as genetically modified
foods and reproductive technologies.
Thats the view of Francesca Scala, a public policy expert and a
new professor at Concordias Political Science Department. Scala,
an MA graduate from Concordia, is rejoining the university this summer,
while preparing to defend her PhD thesis at Carleton Universitys
School of Public Administration.
Expert knowledge favoured
In her PhD thesis, Scala has analyzed the proceedings of the Royal Commission
on New Reproductive Technologies as a case study for how Royal Commissions
reconcile voices from different groups in society. In 1993, this Commission
cautiously came out in favour of allowing fertility treatments such as
in vitro fertilization in Canada.
Scala found that in reaching this positive conclusion, the Royal Commission
tended to favour expert knowledge by doctors, biologists and
other scientists over non-expert input by groups with non-quantifiable,
ethical concerns, such as feminist groups or anti-abortion activists.
There was a hierarchy, Scala said. The medical-legal
experts were seen as providing objective expertise that could easily translate
into usable knowledge for the government, whereas community groups
that participated in the hearings werent regarded as experts
in their fields or as true representatives of their constituents. They
were also seen as biased.
The Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, therefore, did
not succeed in opening up the debate to non-medical or non-legal perspectives,
Scala found. If we believe in democratizing policy analysis and
bringing different voices to the table, we have to organize these kinds
of inquiries in a very different way.
Community involvement essential
Scalas main recommendation is to make inquiries more inclusive by
providing community groups with equal weight to that of scientists in
public consultations. This could be done by funding independent research
projects that community groups need to underpin their viewpoints, she
A model for how to conduct an inquiry, in Scalas eyes, is the Berger
Commission of some 30 years ago. It examined the construction of the Mackenzie
Valley pipeline in the Northwest Territories. The Commission made sure
that community groups were involved throughout the whole process, Scala
said. They gave the elders in the aboriginal communities the same
expert status as regular experts or researchers.
The main challenge is how to use the information from such public consultations.
Its not enough to just hear what people have to say. What
we have to do is try to find a way to incorporate it in a real way into
the policy-making process.
Not that Scala disagrees fundamentally with the outcome of the Royal Commission
on New Reproductive Technologies. Its final report, titled Proceed
with Care, struck a cautious note. But more than the concerns of some
feminists, who find new reproductive technologies potentially oppressive
towards women, this caution may have been the result of fiscal constraints,
Expensive fertility treatments remain largely uncovered by medicare.
New draft legislation on the topic introduced earlier this month by Health
Minister Alan Rock reflects the final report, Scala said. The government
wants to ban human cloning, paid surrogacy, and the commercialization
of embryos and eggs.
These were some of the issues where there was consensus, Scala
explained. Theyre the issues that are on the extreme. But
when it comes to issues like whether a 55-year-old woman should have access
to fertility treatments and who should be funding them, thats something
that I dont think the federal government is able to address in an
At Concordia, Scala plans to undertake a comparative analysis of American
and Canadian policies on embryo research. Its a dream come
true to come back and teach at Concordia, she said. Im
very happy to be back.