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|Born||San Diego, California|
|Nationality||Canada, USA, Iran|
|Occupation||Professor, University of Ottawa|
|Known for||Human rights and public health work|
Amir Attaran (Persian: امیر عطاران) is a Canadian-American-Iranian law and medicine professor. Currently, Attaran is a 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
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.
Attaran received a predoctoral fellowship 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 of the Department of Zoology and Professor Alain Townsend of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. 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".
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.
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, 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. 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.
Attaran has had a diverse career as a scientist, lawyer, scholar, and advocate for public health, human rights and environmental protection.
While a graduate student at Oxford, the university secretly ordered its scientists to “remove radioactive warning labels” from dangerous laboratory waste, and instructed them to dispose of it covertly in the city’s sewerage and rubbish bins. Scientists in the Department of Zoology where Attaran was based opposed the policy as "unacceptable", and Attaran waged a successful whistleblowing campaign that reversed it.
While practicing environmental law at the Sierra Legal Defence Fund (now called Ecojustice), 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. This is possibly the earliest instance of the right to a healthy environment being fully litigated as a constitutional right under s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the right to life, liberty and security of the person).
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. Attaran and Sachs proposed a new, multi-billion 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." 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.
In 2006, Attaran's research found evidence that the Canadian Forces were detaining and transferring civilians to units of the Afghan government known for torture. This finding propelled the Canadian Afghan detainee scandal, in which 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. 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. 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 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.
In 2012, Attaran filed a complaint against right-wing political commentator Ezra Levant, who was also a lawyer called to the Alberta bar. Levant told a Hispanic banana company executive "chinga tu madre" ("go fuck your mother") on his Sun TV show. 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. 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. In 2013, Attaran accused Peter MacKay of falsely alleging that Justin Trudeau committed a crime by smoking marijuana. In dismissing the complaint, the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society said there was no evidence to suggest MacKay knew he was saying something false. 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. 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.
- "Amir Attaran on the treatment of Afghan detainees". Globe and Mail. 2007-03-09. Retrieved 2007-04-27.
- 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. ISSN 0006-2960. PMID 1703009.
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- Attaran, Amir (1995-01-01). CTL cytotoxicity and the cytoskeleton: a microscopial study (Thesis). Thesis DPhil--University of Oxford.
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- 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.
- "Doctoring malaria, badly: the global campaign to ban DDT". BMJ : British Medical Journal. 321 (7273): 1403–1405. 2000-12-02. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC . PMID 11099289.
- Kristof, Nicholas D. (2005-01-08). "It's Time To Spray DDT". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
- "The use of DDT in malaria vector control. WHO position statement". World Health Organization. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
- 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.
- Editorial (2001). "Grants, not loans, for the developing world?". The Lancet. 357: 1.
- Attaran, A.; Sachs, J. (2001-01-06). "Defining and refining international donor support for combating the AIDS pandemic". Lancet. 357 (9249): 57–61. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 11197373. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)03576-5.
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Hey you, yeah you, Manuel Rodriguez. Chinga tu madre.
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- McLeod, Paul (7 October 2013). "Pot complaint against MacKay dismissed". Halifax Chronicle-Herald. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
- HANNAY, CHRIS (2016-05-08). "Canadian universities fail to meet diversity hiring targets". Retrieved 2017-06-06.
- HANNAY, CHRIS (2017-05-04). "Ottawa to universities: Improve diversity or lose research chair funds". Retrieved 2017-06-06.