Barbara Kay: Scandal at CAMH — one entirely of its own making
National Post - Wednesday February 3rd, 2016
CAMH — Toronto’s prestigious Centre for Addiction and Mental Health — now finds itself where no publicly-funded institution wants to be: sitting in the glare of a media spotlight focused on a controversy entirely of its own making.
Until last December, CAMH’s Youth and Family Identity Clinic (GIC) helped young children with gender dysphoria explore their mental relationship with their bodies and often, through whole-family therapy, enabled them to reunite with their biological reality. Even 10 years ago, such an outcome would be considered a success story. But, thanks to aggressive activism in the trans movement, today any interventions to prevent gender transitioning in children is deemed by LGBT loyalists — and increasingly by legislators — as insensitive or even abusive. Ontario’s 2015 Bill 77, for example, bans funding for “any services rendered that seek to change or direct the sexual orientation or gender identity of a patient, including efforts to change or direct the patient’s behaviour or gender expression.”
In mid-December, in a double whammy, CAMH announced that the GIC was “winding down” its four-decades service to the community, and that Dr. Kenneth Zucker, GIC’s team leader and an acknowledged academic star in his field, had been let go. Zucker had for years been the target of venomous attacks by activists for practicing what they consider “conversion therapy” — the discredited practice of attempting to turn gays straight — which isn’t the case, as Zucker has always been fully supportive of gender transitioning in cases where intervention is unwarranted. But the prevailing emotionalism on the subject has trumped rational dialogue. CAMH’s decision was received with jubilation by trans activists as a victory for the movement.
Supporters of Zucker agree that the GIC closing and Zucker’s dismissal were politically inspired actions. Giving credence to that view was the fact that on the same day of the double announcement, an external review, commissioned last February, was posted on the CAMH website. The report found that the GIC was out of step with current practices, and included the shocking allegation that Zucker had asked a trans adolescent, “Adam,” to open his shirt and had then humiliated him by remarking that he was a “hairy little vermin.” Zucker was not able to address or rebut the allegation — which we know now was made in error, and had no substance.
Fortunately, thanks to an investigation by journalist Jesse Singal of “Science of Us” (nymag.com/scienceofus/), the false allegation was exposed. Singal contacted “Adam” and discovered the incident had happened at another clinic and that the remarks attributed to Zucker had, in fact, absolutely nothing to do with him. The misattribution of those remarks to Zucker in the external review has now been acknowledged, and CAMH has taken the review off their website and publicly apologized.
Why the lead authors of the review, psychiatrists Dr. Suzanne Zinck and Dr. Antonio Pigniatello, failed to fact-check such an outlandish and potentially ruinous accusation is shocking in itself, and does nothing to dispel the notion that the fix was already in for Zucker, and the external review a purely token gesture.
I spoke with now-retired psychiatrist Dr. Susan Bradley, who founded the GIC in 1975. She considers the review “unprofessional.” Drs. Zinck and Pigniatello, neither of whom has an academic track record or clinical experience in gender dysphoria, Bradley says, failed to heavily rely on the academic literature of those who are recognized experts. Bradley told me further that Zucker had given them the names of eight experts in the field, but they consulted none of them. Moreover, they did not consult the American Psychiatric Association or the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, who between them have amassed all the relevant research in the field. They did, however, consult a trans advocacy organization which is opposed to the GIC philosophy.
Gender politics is putting a chill on objective research and psychiatrists’ ability to offer reasonable clinical help to distraught families
Science of Us reporter Singal has meanwhile continued his investigation into the CAMH iceberg below the tip I have just described. In his latest post, published Monday, Singal describes a “plummeting morale” at CAMH and “a sense of paranoia” amongst some staffers. He wrote that “many psychologists said … in discussions, ‘If they can fire Ken Zucker, they can fire anybody.’” One staffer told Singal, “What if the work that I’m doing becomes unpopular with some group? Is CAMH going to throw me under the bus, so to speak?”
Clearly the political martyrdom of the GIC and Zucker adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Gender politics is putting a chill on objective research and psychiatrists’ ability to offer reasonable clinical help to distraught families. Indeed, this scandal has ominous implications for the entire field of clinical psychiatry and the willingness of researchers to enter any potentially controversial field.
Singal is working on a more probing follow-up to this affair, which will explore “the explosive political and scientific controversy that led to it.” Singal, who by the way described himself to me as “left-leaning” in an interview, has no political axe to grind here. He is an objective reporter, living and working abroad, writing for a reputable magazine. He would like to hear from any CAMH worker, patient or parents of patients at the GIC who would like to share their story with him. Stay tuned.