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U of O accepts $200,000 donation from the tobacco industry

Originally published on Sept. 26, 1996.

Arts students were forced to implement a smoke-free policy in Simard Hall’s student-owned Café Alternative last year, but the same rules don’t apply to the makers of the policy, the University of Ottawa administration. The U of O has accepted a series of donations from Imasco Inc, the company that owns Imperial Tobacco. 

Imasco is donating $40,000 to the U of O this year, the remaining balance of a $200,000 pledge, being paid over the past several years.

Carole Workman, vice-rector (ressources), said the money was accepted as a Vision Campaign donation. She noted that there are no strings attached to the funding.

“It is an unrestricted pledge. There is a whole series of things done with [Vision Campaign] funds and Imasco is in there.”

This year Imasco also donated a total of $9,000 to the U of O’s affiliated hospitals which include the Ottawa General Hospital and the Sudbury General Hospital. This money is in addition to the $200,000 pledge and is also part of larger pledges made to the hospitals. 

Sandra Oka, Ressource Coordinator of the Ontario Public Interest Group, says that the U of O shouldn’t accept money from the Tobacco industry.

“We should be educating people on the dangers of tobacco smoking not taking money from tobacco industries.”

Roberts Phillips, a medical professor at the University of Toronto, where administrators also accept money from Imasco, agrees with Oka. 

“Sometimes principles are more important than money, and this is one of those times,” said Phillips who heads the Cancer Research Division at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. 

The U of O currently has no written policy about which companies the university will accept donations from, but Jean-Michel Beillard, vice-rector (university relations and development) said that “if [the University of Ottawa] had a major donation from a beer or tobacco company, [the university] probably wouldn’t take it.” 

After being informed that the U of O is indeed accepting such donations, Beillard said he was not aware of the situation but the money won’t be returned.

“It probably escaped us,” said Beillard. He said it is difficult to keep track of every company which gives money to the university.

Currently, there are no plans to accept more money from Imasco, but Beillard said this decision will be left to the U of O’s shareholders. He also said he is hesitant about creating a policy with respect to who can donate money to the university.

“We’d want to think long and hard about making a policy of that short.”

The U of O is not the only university accepting money from Imasco. Last year, the company donated more than $1 million split between 28 Canadian universities. Imasco also gave money to the association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Live from the archives is a series that highlights the intriguing stories of the past that marked both the Fulcrum and the University of Ottawa community. These stories can be found in the Fulcrum archives at 631 King Edwards, avenue in Ottawa. For those who wish to have access and visit the archives please contact our Editor-in-Chief at   

Fun facts about this article    

  • The Smoke-Free Ontario Act came into law on May 31, 2006, and was designed to reduce tobacco use and reduce second-hand exposure to tobacco smoke in Ontario by prohibiting the use of tobacco products inside public establishments. This is why it was unusual for Arts students to be forced to implement a smoke-free policy at Café Alternative in 1996.
  • Café Alternative or Café Alt for short was closed in April 2019 after the University of  Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) became the official Student Union of the University of Ottawa. UOSU planned on reopening Café Alt in September but COVID-19 has blurred those plans.
  • Imasco was amalgamated into Imperial Tobacco Canada in 2000 
  • Carole Workman was vice-rector of Resources at the University of Ottawa from 1992 to 2004. In 2004, a scholarship was created in her honour called the Carole Workman Leadership Scholarship, it is awarded every year to a small number of students. Workman is now a member of the board of directors of Allstate insurance of Canada.  
  • Writer Samer Muscati is now the Associate Director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch.
  • Rachel Furey now lives in Halifax.
  • Information on Jean-Michel Beillard and a U of O policy on accepting donations from tobacco companies are very limited