Amir Attaran

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Amir Attaran
Amir Attaran H1N1 conference.png
San Grocu, California
NationalityUSA, Iran,Canada
Alma materUC Berkeley (BA), Caltech (MS), University of Oxford (PhD), University of British Columbia (LLB)
OccupationProfessor, University of Ottawa
Known forHuman rights, public health work

Amir Attaran (Persian: امیر عطاران‎) is a American-Iranian and Canadian Full Professor in both the Faculty of Law and the School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Early life and education[edit]

Attaran was born in California to immigrants from Iran.[1] He attended public schools in the Sacramento area.

Attaran earned a B.A. in neuroscience from the University of California at Berkeley, after which he worked in the x-ray crystallography laboratory of Professor Robert Stroud at the University of California at San Francisco on a project to determine the 3-D structure of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.[2]

Attaran received a predoctoral fellowship[3] from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for graduate studies in the biomedical sciences, leading to degrees from Caltech (M.S., 1992) and Oxford University (D.Phil., 1996). At Oxford, he matriculated to Wadham College and studied under Professor David Shotton[4] of the Department of Zoology and Professor Alain Townsend[5] of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine.[6] His doctoral thesis examined how killer T-cells modify themselves structurally in response to viral infections as a precursor to granulocyte- and apoptosis-mediated cytotoxicity, and is entitled "CTL cytotoxicity and the cytoskeleton: a microscopial study".[7]

While at Oxford pursuing his science doctorate, Attaran simultaneously enrolled in law school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He graduated with an LL.B., was called to the bar in 1999, and has been a barrister and solicitor of the Law Society of Upper Canada since 2005.[8]

From 2000 to 2003, Attaran held a junior academic position at Harvard University in the Kennedy School of Government, where his research focus was on public health law and policy. At Harvard he co-directed the WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health in the Center for International Development under Jeffrey Sachs,[9] and researched the influence of patent law on the ability of patients to access life-saving medicines and the human right to health at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy under Michael Ignatieff.[10] From 2003 to 2005, Attaran taught at Yale University in the School of Public Health, and was a fellow at Chatham House (formerly the Royal Institute of International Affairs) in London, where he researched global development, patent law, and access to essential medicines for neglected diseases such as malaria.[11]

Notable work[edit]

Attaran has had a diverse career as a scientist, lawyer, scholar, and advocate for public health, human rights and environmental protection.

Attaran was counsel on a successful administrative law challenge to the issuance of wood incineration permits in British Columbia that caused exceptionally high levels of smoke and small particulates (PM 10) that harmed asthma patients.[12][better source needed]

In 1999 and 2000, Attaran was an environmental lawyer participating in the negotiation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which banned the manufacturing and use of certain toxic substances. Attaran led a controversial global campaign of over 400 scientists and medical doctors, including several Nobel prize winners, who wanted an exemption to use DDT in public health because it is extremely effective in reducing the deaths of children from malaria.[13] South Africa's Medical Research Council subsequently invited Attaran to draft the public health exemption, which countries agreed at the sixth and last negotiation session in Johannesburg as Annex B of the Stockholm Convention.[14] Although once opposed, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund now accept using DDT in small amounts for public health, and the World Health Organization adopted it as a recommended malaria control strategy.[15][16]

In 2001, Attaran acted as an advisor on patent and trade law to Brazil's Ministry of Health, to defend against a legal challenge the United States brought at the World Trade Organization, which sought to force Brazil to amend its patent laws and prohibit the affordable, generic versions of HIV/AIDS medicines on which the health ministry depended. Attaran and his colleague Paul Champ developed a legal strategy involving a retaliatory challenge to US patent laws.[17] The United States withdrew its case under public pressure and Brazil continued using generic HIV/AIDS medicines for its population.

In 2001, Attaran and Jeffrey Sachs, then at Harvard working on the WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, published an influential paper in The Lancet that the editors of that journal credited as the "blueprint" for fighting the global HIV/AIDS pandemic on a large scale.[18] Attaran and Sachs proposed a new, multibillion-dollar fund that would be "based on grants, not loans, for the poorest countries", and which would be "judged as having epidemiological merit ... by a panel of independent scientific experts."[19] Attaran and Sachs' policy innovations were widely championed by advocates, and incorporated into the design of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which launched later that year. The Fund has since saved over 20 million lives.[20]

Attaran and human rights lawyer Paul Champ acted as legal counsel for Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association in a judicial review of the Canadian Forces' detainee policy.[citation needed] Although the Federal Courts found that torture could not be justified under s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it ruled that the Charter lacks extraterritorial reach to the Canadian Forces' overseas military expeditions. Nonetheless, the Court's decision confirmed that Canada knew about detainees being tortured, as with a man who had "bruising ... consistent with the beating [he] described", and whose story was corroborated by "Canadian personnel [locating] a large piece of braided electrical wire and a rubber hose" in the interrogation room.[21] The Court's ruling that "Canadian Forces will undoubtedly have to give very careful consideration as to whether it is indeed possible to resume such transfers in the future without exposing detainees to a substantial risk of torture" led to strengthening the detainee policy shortly thereafter.

From 2009 to 2015, Attaran litigated a case at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario which sought to expand the reproductive rights of women and men by compelling the Ontario Health Insurance Plan to fund in vitro fertilization irrespective of sex or disability. Ontario's practice had been to provide IVF only when a woman was infertile, and only where her disability affected the fallopian tubes, thereby excluding other forms of female infertility disability (e.g. cancer, endometriosis), and entirely excluding infertile men. The litigation convinced Ontario to strike an advisory panel on infertility[22] that included Attaran in exchange for him adjourning the hearing, the result of which was that the province finally accepted to fund IVF, mooting the legal challenge.[23]

In 2008, Attaran wrote a Globe and Mail opinion piece critical of the Department of National Defence (DND) for supporting Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan through the undisclosed financing of think tanks and academics favourable to Canada's involvement, alleging that the latter could be viewed as tainted.[24] David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, noted that Attaran faced fierce reactions from the DND "who sent in a letter of protest to the Globe as did several defence academics;" and that, in an exchange with one of those "defence academics," military historian J.L. Granatstein, Attaran pointed out that Granatstein himself had received an award of $5000 from an Ottawa-based think tank.[25]

In 2012, Attaran filed a complaint against right-wing political commentator Ezra Levant, who was also a lawyer called to the Alberta bar.[26] Levant told a Hispanic banana company executive "chinga tu madre" ("go fuck your mother") on his Sun TV show.[27] The Law Society of Alberta initially withdrew the charges, but Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Dawn Pentelechuk said the society's explanation for doing so was "unsatisfactory and unclear" and ordered a hearing to determine if they had committed an abuse of process.[28] Levant ultimately resigned from the bar in March, 2016 rather than face a disciplinary hearing. Attaran criticized the law society for allowing Levant to resign without reprimand, saying that it breached their own rules.[29] In 2013, Attaran accused Peter MacKay of falsely alleging that Justin Trudeau committed a crime by smoking marijuana. In dismissing the complaint,[30] the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society said there was no evidence to suggest MacKay knew he was saying something false.[31] MacKay was Attorney General of Canada at the time.

In 2016, Attaran filed a complaint at the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that the federal government's Canada Research Chair program discriminated against women, visible minorities, aboriginal people, and persons with disabilities. Attaran brought legal challenge after the CRC Program's decade-long failure to honour a settlement agreement signed by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, setting firm employment equity targets for these four groups.[32] The government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sided with Attaran, and in 2017 Science Minister Kirsty Duncan announced that universities would be required either to increase diversity and meet the employment equity targets, or lose their federal CRC funding.[33]


Attaran was involved in additional controversies over the years regarding his comments made online and alleged racism towards himself. In 2016, Attaran alleged that he was denied a Canada Research Chair promotion based on racial bias. He then filled a discrimination lawsuit against the University of Ottawa through Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.[34] Attaran's claims were not proven in court, a confidential settlement having been reached with the university.[35]

In July 2019, Attaran was accused of elitism for calling the conservatives the "party of the uneducated".[36][37] In June 2020, Attaran wrote on Twitter: "In my experience as a brown guy at a bilingual university on the Quebec–Ontario border, there is plenty of racism, and more often than not when it speaks to me the first word is 'Bonjour'."[38] He was later accused of francophobia and Quebec bashing by officials of the province.[39] Attaran made similar comments targeting French-speaking professors in October 2020.[40] In December 2020, Attaran was heavily criticized for comparing "US nationalism" to "Quebec nationalism."[41] Attaran also claimed that racism was "way out there" in Quebec,[42] and claimed that Francophones in Quebec do not form a group targeted by hateful speech.[43][44] In March 2021, Attaran described the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman, while in the care. of Quebec healthcare personnel as a "medical lynching". He also wrote that Quebec was led by a "white supremacist government" for its failure to accept systemic racism as real, and called Quebec's culture racist.[45] The University of Ottawa, his employer, officially disapproved and qualified Attaran's comments as "offensive" and "not in any way reflect[ing] the values of respect, inclusion and diversity in which [they] believe", but stated that the university will not intervene because his comments were protected by the freedom of speech. Attaran's comments prompted rebuke from politicians, with Premier François Legault calling them unacceptable and the Prime Minister describing it as "Quebec-bashing".

On 3 December 2020, Attaran claimed that the Government of Canada "should not provide [the province of] Alberta field hospitals" due to perceived mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic on the part of the provincial government.[46] He further accused Albertan commentator Max Fawcett of "[t]ypical Albertan arrogance" for claiming that Alberta was entitled to federal medical aid due to its large contributions to equalization payments in Canada.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Amir Attaran on the treatment of Afghan detainees". Globe and Mail. 2007-03-09. Retrieved 2007-04-27.
  2. ^ Stroud, R. M.; McCarthy, M. P.; Shuster, M. (1990-12-18). "Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor superfamily of ligand-gated ion channels". Biochemistry. 29 (50): 11009–11023. doi:10.1021/bi00502a001. ISSN 0006-2960. PMID 1703009.
  3. ^ "Awards database - Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)". Archived from the original on 2018-08-09. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  4. ^ "- Department of Zoology, University of Oxford". Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  5. ^ "Prof Alain R Townsend FRS FRCP - Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford".
  6. ^ "Home - Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine".
  7. ^ Attaran, Amir (1995-01-01). CTL cytotoxicity and the cytoskeleton: a microscopial study (Thesis). Thesis DPhil--University of Oxford.
  8. ^ "The Law Society of Upper Canada". Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  9. ^ "Center for International Development at Harvard University (CID) :: People". 2001-01-24. Archived from the original on 2001-01-24. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  10. ^ "Carr Center for Human Rights Policy". 2002-10-14. Archived from the original on 2002-10-14. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  11. ^ "In the public eye | University Affairs". University Affairs. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  12. ^ Mutschke et al v. Northwood Inc., BC Environmental Appeal Board, Appeals 99-WAS-06/08(d), 99-WAS-11/12/13(d), 00-WAS-01(d).
  13. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (1999-08-29). "DDT, Target of Global Ban, Finds Defenders in Experts on Malaria". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  14. ^ Attaran, A.; Maharaj, R.; Liroff, R. (2000-12-02). "Doctoring malaria, badly: the global campaign to ban DDT". BMJ : British Medical Journal. 321 (7273): 1403–1405. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7273.1403. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 1119118. PMID 11099289.
  15. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (2005-01-08). "It's Time To Spray DDT". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  16. ^ "The use of DDT in malaria vector control. WHO position statement". World Health Organization. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  17. ^ Paul, Champ; Amir, Attaran (2002-01-01). "Patent Rights and Local Working Under the WTO TRIPS Agreement: An Analysis of the U.S.-Brazil Patent Dispute". Yale Journal of International Law. 27 (2). ISSN 0889-7743.
  18. ^ Editorial (2001). "Grants, not loans, for the developing world?". The Lancet. 357 (9249): 1. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(00)03557-1. PMID 11197352.
  19. ^ Attaran, A.; Sachs, J. (2001-01-06). "Defining and refining international donor support for combating the AIDS pandemic". Lancet. 357 (9249): 57–61. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)03576-5. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 11197373.
  20. ^ "Impact".
  21. ^ Amnesty International Canada v. Canadian Forces, 2008 FC 162.
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Ontario to cover in-vitro fertilization treatments | Toronto Star". Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  24. ^ "When think tanks produce propaganda". Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  25. ^ Pugliese, David; February 29, Ottawa Citizen Updated; 2008 (2008-02-29). "PROFESSORS BATTLE IT OUT OVER ALLEGATIONS DND FUNDS PROPAGANDA | Ottawa Citizen". Retrieved 2020-01-07.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ "Law society under fire for dismissing complaints against Ezra Levant". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  27. ^ Ladurantaye, Steve (13 June 2012). "Defiant Levant stands by Spanish slur". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 21 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017. Hey you, yeah you, Manuel Rodriguez. Chinga tu madre.
  28. ^ Fine, Sean (16 April 2015). "Law society under fire for dismissing complaints against Ezra Levant". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  29. ^ Rusnell, Charles (1 March 2016). "Ezra Levant law-society resignation application criticized by complainants". CBC News. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  30. ^ "MacKay's pot comment OK, regulator says". The Province. Archived from the original on 6 December 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  31. ^ McLeod, Paul (7 October 2013). "Pot complaint against MacKay dismissed". Halifax Chronicle-Herald. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  32. ^ HANNAY, CHRIS (2016-05-08). "Canadian universities fail to meet diversity hiring targets". Retrieved 2017-06-06.
  33. ^ HANNAY, CHRIS (2017-05-04). "Ottawa to universities: Improve diversity or lose research chair funds". Retrieved 2017-06-06.
  34. ^ "Denied promotion, University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran takes discrimination fight to human rights tribunal". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2020-10-23.
  35. ^ "Racisme systémique dans les universités canadiennes". Le Devoir (in French). Retrieved 2020-10-23.
  36. ^ "LILLEY: Prof gets a fail for 'party of the uneducated' tweet". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2020-10-23.
  37. ^ "Academe should avoid politicizing educational attainment (opinion) | Inside Higher Ed". Retrieved 2020-10-23.
  38. ^ "". Twitter. Retrieved 2020-10-23. External link in |title= (help)
  39. ^, Zone Société-. "Les propos d'un professeur de l'Université d'Ottawa sur le racisme des francophones font réagir". (in French). Retrieved 2020-10-23.
  40. ^, Zone Société-. "La controverse à l'Université d'Ottawa, nouveau chapitre des "deux solitudes"?". (in French). Retrieved 2020-10-25.
  41. ^
  42. ^ "". Twitter. Retrieved 2021-03-15. External link in |title= (help)
  43. ^ "". Twitter. Retrieved 2021-03-15. External link in |title= (help)
  44. ^, Zone Société-. "Les propos d'un professeur de l'Université d'Ottawa sur le racisme des francophones font réagir". (in French). Retrieved 2021-03-15.
  45. ^
  46. ^ Twitter Retrieved 2020-12-03. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  47. ^ Twitter Retrieved 2020-12-03. Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]