Toronto Star’s Head of Investigations Stands by HPV Story

Kevin Donovan, the Toronto Star's Investigative Editor, defends the paper's HPV vaccine reporting in a statement provided to CANADALAND.

Editor’s Note: Last week, the Toronto Star published a front page investigation into the HPV vaccine Gardasil by reporters Jesse McLean and David Bruser. The investigation has been widely criticicized for alleged misrepresentations of medical anecdotes and data. Vox’s Julia Belluz details problems with the story here and Dr. Jen Gunter provides a summary of issues with the Star’s reporting here.

The Star’s publisher John Cruickshank, in an interview with CBC’s As It Happens, said of the paper’s reporting, “We failed.” Public editor Kathy English echoed his comment in an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning. In the wake of the controversy, the Star ran an op-ed criticizing the piece, signed by over 60 medical professionals.

Kevin Donovan, the Star’s Investigative Editor, defends the story and the Star’s reporting in the following statement, provided to CANADALAND.

I stand by the story and the reporting on the story. The reporters on my team investigated serious reports on a government health database. The reports were filed by doctors and others who lodged the reports with the Canadian government database because they were concerned about serious illness, and in one case death. This is a public database that is in existence to provide post market surveillance of drug products, an important part of the health regulation system in our country. The reporters investigated and conducted interviews.

The story I approved and we published provided a balanced account of concerns around an important public health initiative. It was no different than other stories we have published in a series on drugs and Health Canada that has had a positive impact in this country. I welcome the debate about these issues and was delighted that the doctors wrote their letter. I believe our readers are intelligent. I believe our readers  – parents, students, politicians etc – are smart enough to take in all of the information available, including our story, and make their own decisions.

I would encourage you to read the story closely. You will see that we go to great lengths to explain the benefits of Gardasil, and the conclusions of many in the medical community. But we did give voice to people, families and others, who raise concerns. In doing these stories we are always hoping that they will cause further examination of an issue. It is my hope that drug safety researchers in Canada might take a close look at the Canadian cases now.

As a final note, nobody at CBC contacted me with any questions about this, last week or this week. I have made it clear in my reporting on Rob Ford, Jian Ghomeshi, charities, ORNGE and a host of other stories that I am always accessible and open to answering questions.

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