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Veteran activist Dr. David Swann explains why it’s important for doctors to engage in direct action.

Should doctors get involved in direct action and physically place themselves on the front lines over threats to human and environmental health? My experience testifies to my belief that the answer is yes.

So far my actions have stayed within the law, but it’s clear to me that in those rare instances that threaten present and future generations, there may be a need to push legal boundaries. Where I live in Alberta, it is apparent – after 43 years under one government – that a lack of science-based policy and some current practices threaten our future. Every responsible citizen, including doctors, must summon their courage to stand up against such political failure.

Dr. Richard Denton argues that physician-activists should stay within the law. 

As doctors or nurses, our greatest asset is our professional standing in the eyes of the public. That’s why organizations such as Physicians for Global Survival (PGS) or Canadian Associations of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) are so often sought out by other groups to lend credibility to their causes. Civil disobedience can undermine that professional standing – anything we do that erodes it is unhelpful to our cause.


Dr. David Swann is Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for the constituency of Calgary Mountain View. He initiated the Healthy City Project in Calgary in 1987 and was part of developing the city’s first pesticide-free park in 1998. Swann currently holds the portfolio for Agriculture and Rural Development, Health, Human Services, Seniors, and Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour.

Dr. Richard Denton is an associate professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. He has served as president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and Physicians for Global Survival. Denton is the North American co-chair for International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. 

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