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Potential conflict of interest discovered in UBC dentistry investigation

File photo of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Hadani Ditmars

When the University of British Columbia opened a prestigious dentistry centre in 2006, there were six new artworks on display, including a swirling glass chandelier suspended from the ceiling.

Several of the artists chosen for the showcase site were linked to a gallery owner who was also the wife of a high-profile member of the school's dentistry faculty. And that faculty member, Christopher Zed, was among the group that selected the artists, raising the prospect of at least a potential conflict of interest and adding to the questions swirling around his departure from UBC.

Dr. Zed left UBC in December, months after the school launched an internal investigation into alleged financial irregularities at the faculty of dentistry.

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UBC has not discussed the reasons for his departure, citing privacy concerns. Attempts to reach Dr. Zed through former colleagues, social media and family members over several weeks have so far been unsuccessful.

UBC has said its concerns relate to the General Practice Residency program, which trains postgraduate dentists in a number of hospital and community clinics and was formerly managed by Dr. Zed.

He was also was part of a group that assessed artists' proposals for works to be installed at the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre, Vancouver-based sculptor Markian Olynyk said on Wednesday.

"I only met him because there was a board convened [to consider artists' proposals]," Mr. Olynyk said.

The meeting took place at UBC and allowed artists to describe their concept to the group, which included Dr. Zed, Mr. Olynyk said. "We [artists] all had different times to make our presentations – and I made the presentation and I won the competition," Mr. Olynyk said.

Dr. Zed was part of the project team that oversaw the building of the Nobel Biocare centre and was also part of an ad hoc group that took responsibility for art selection as part of interior design, UBC spokeswoman Lucie McNeill said on Wednesday.

Funds to purchase art for the Nobel Biocare project came from an anonymous, $100,000 gift donated to purchase art, she said. Mr. Olynyk's Vortex sculpture was purchased with part of that donation.

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Mr. Olynyk would not say how much he was paid, but called it a "significant" commission, noting the more-than-one-tonne work is made of glass, steel, plexiglass and LED lights and required engineering expertise to install. Mr. Olynyk represented himself in the transaction.

But other artists whose work was chosen for the clinic were represented by Vancouver's Winsor Galleries, whose owner, Jennifer Winsor, was at the time married to Dr. Zed (the couple has since divorced). That included painter Jack Darcus, who provided a work called Jericho Morning for the site. In an e-mail Wednesday, Mr. Darcus referred inquiries to Ms. Winsor, saying she had handled the sale.

Ms. Winsor's lawyer, Nikki Charlton, did not reply specifically to questions about art chosen for the Nobel Biocare centre.

"Ms. Winsor had nothing to do with the various allegations made against the staff at UBC," Ms. Charlton said Wednesday in an e-mail. "Ms. Winsor will be co-operating with UBC and given the ongoing investigation, she will not be commenting further."

Galleries and dealers can receive commissions of up to 50 per cent on art sales, a local art dealer said Wednesday. Prices tend to be higher for artwork commissioned for specific locations.

On April 30, UBC revealed it had passed concerns relating to possible financial impropriety in UBC's Faculty of Dentistry to the RCMP.

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The RCMP have said they have opened an investigation that could involve up to $5-million. No charges have been laid. Police say they have a person of interest, but that person has not been named.

This week, UBC said an online, anonymous allegation related to the faculty of dentistry surfaced as far back as 2011, but that an initial review did not turn up grounds for more extensive internal investigations.

UBC says its present investigation started last fall after the university received credible information from a whistleblower.

In principle, faculty members should declare a conflict of interest if they or an immediate family member stands to benefit financially from a transaction over which they have control, Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said on Wednesday.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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