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Queen’s students say instructor teaches that vaccines are harmful

Queen’s University is under fire after students complained that one of its instructors has been teaching for several years that vaccines are harmful.

Lars Hagberg/The Globe and Mail

Queen's University is under fire after students complained that one of its instructors has been teaching for several years that vaccines are harmful.

Melody Torcolacci is an adjunct instructor who teaches the Health 102 and Health 200 courses at the Queen's School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. She was a track and field coach, but resigned in 2011 and has been teaching since.

There have been protests about Ms. Torcolacci's teachings before, but the controversy has flared again amid the current news about measles outbreaks and the role played by vaccination skeptics.

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A 60-part slide presentation from one of her courses states that the benefits of immunization are exaggerated and that vaccinated children faced greater health problems.

"In the last 30 years vaccination U.S. kids receive has tripled; during that same time, number of kids with learning disabilities, ADHD, asthma and diabetes has more than tripled," one slide says.

"No scientific evidence exists showing vaccines are NOT contributing to increased incidence of chronic illness and disability in children," the next slide says.

The presentation also says autism has increased more significantly among vaccinated children. It ends with links to four videos critical of vaccination and a reminder to "especially watch these … all of them! Going to be on test!!!!!"

The course outline for her Health 102 class includes topics such as "Vaccines and health," "Dental amalgams, sealants, crowns," "[Electromagnetic fields], cellphones and other forms of radiation."

Ms. Torcolacci did not reply to a phone message and an e-mail seeking comments.

Queen's principal Daniel Woolf said he had asked provost Alan Harrison to gather information about Ms. Torcolacci's courses. "I encourage people to be respectful and patient, and to reserve judgment until the facts are known," Dr. Woolf tweeted.

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In an interview, Dr. Harrison said he wants first to find out the context and substance of what Ms. Torcolacci is alleged to have taught to her students.

He added, however, that "we expect that evidence to be presented would be reliable, scientific evidence and that that evidence would be presented objectively."

Instructors can have their own opinions, he said, but "they should indicate to students that these are biases."

Colin Zarzour, academic affairs commissioner for the Queen's Alma Mater Society, said the student association started hearing concerns from students this week.

He noted that the faculty's collective agreement stipulates that academic freedom is to be used to pursue excellence and knowledge. "The course content was not meeting that scholarly obligation," he said.

Isabelle Duchaine, who was academic affairs commissioner in 2012-13, said she heard at the time from three students complaining about Ms. Torcolacci. She said she urged them to inform the department.

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Ms. Duchaine heard on Tuesday that Queen's students were again unhappy with Ms. Torcolacci. She obtained a copy of the slide presentation from a student and shared it with The Globe and Mail.

Both Ms. Duchaine and Mr. Zarzour said Queen's should not have been caught off-guard because it was likely that students complained about Ms. Torcolacci in the past in their mandatory evaluations of her course.

A former student, Sarah Pekeles, said that as early as 2011 or 2012 she filed a complaint to the website of the School of Kinesiology after dropping out of the course because she disagreed with its content. She said she did not hear back from the department.

On the website ratemyprofessors.com, several writers described Ms. Torcolacci as a nice instructor with questionable scientific views.

A former shot put national champion, Ms. Torcolacci was head coach of the Queen's track and field program for two decades.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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