Domi­noes of dis­hon­esty?

The al­leged web of de­ceit that has come to light in a do­mes­tic tor­ture case is hav­ing far reach­ing con­se­quences, in­clud­ing the re­trac­tion of a high-pro­file re­search pa­per from McMaster Univer­sity and ques­tions over an in­ap­pro­pri­ately pre­scribed drug.

The Hamilton Spectator - - Front Page - SU­SAN CLAIRMONT

CRED­I­BIL­ITY MAT­TERS in a crim­i­nal trial. It mat­ters a lot.

Yet it is be­ing called into ques­tion for un­ex­pected rea­sons in a com­plex do­mes­tic vi­o­lence case play­ing out in a Hamil­ton court­room for nine months and count­ing.

While the abuse al­le­ga­tions are hor­rific, the case has also ex­posed a web of al­leged dis­hon­esty beyond the trial, some of which threat­ens the rep­u­ta­tion of cel­e­brated McMaster Univer­sity re­searcher Dr. Mark Tarnopol­sky, who should have noth­ing to do with this.

The court­room has heard a re­search pa­per he signed off on is now un­der scru­tiny, and he is ac­cused of writ­ing a pre­scrip­tion for some­one who was never his pa­tient.

Until the trial, those con­cerns hadn’t sur­faced.

Sara Salim says she was tor­tured, abused and im­pris­oned in the Bin­brook home where she lived with her hus­band, Adeel Saf­dar, and his fam­ily.

The Saf­dars say Sara is men­tally ill and caused in­juries to her­self, in­clud­ing a bro­ken jaw. They say she is fak­ing abuse to win a cus­tody bat­tle.

Some­one is ly­ing. It will be up to Jus­tice Andrew Good­man to de­cide who.

The truth of the abuse al­le­ga­tions — brand­ing Sara with an iron, forc­ing her to carve words into her own leg with a knife, re­fus­ing to let her care for her baby — is at the core of this trial. From there, other ques­tions and other ques­tions of dis­hon­esty have sprouted:

One of the most no­table sci­en­tific re­search pa­pers pub­lished by Adeel Saf­dar will be re­tracted due to con­cerns about aca­demic fraud. This may be the death knell of Saf­dar’s once-stel­lar ki­ne­si­ol­ogy ca­reer with ties to McMaster and Har­vard uni­ver­si­ties, and more than $2.5 mil­lion in fed­eral re­search grants.

It may also be a se­ri­ous black mark on the rep­u­ta­tion of su­per­star McMaster sci­en­tist Tarnopol­sky, Saf­dar’s men­tor and se­nior au­thor of the re­search now un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Tarnopol­sky is al­leged to have writ­ten a pre­scrip­tion for Sara, who was never his pa­tient.

A defence lawyer flung ac­cu­sa­tions of pla­gia­rism at renowned do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ex­pert Dr. Peter Jaffe, only to have the sug­ges­tion ve­he­mently de­nounced by the judge. Yet that didn’t stop Saf­dar from com­plain­ing about pla­gia­rism to Jaffe’s em­ployer.

A key defence wit­ness was dra­mat­i­cally caught ly­ing un­der oath. ADEEL SAF­DAR, 38,

is charged with assault with a weapon, ut­ter­ing a death threat, ag­gra­vated assault and two counts of assault upon his wife, Sara.

Sha­heen Saf­dar, 61, is charged with assault caus­ing bod­ily harm, assault with a weapon, assault, ut­ter­ing death threats and ag­gra­vated assault upon Sara, who is her daugh­ter-in­law.

Aatif Saf­dar, 36, is charged with assault caus­ing bod­ily harm, assault with a weapon, assault and threat­en­ing death upon Sara, his sis­ter-in­law.

Aca­demic dis­hon­esty

ADEEL SAF­DAR was a science star.

McMaster Univer­sity loved him. He did his un­der­grad there and even­tu­ally his PhD in ki­ne­si­ol­ogy. He landed a po­si­tion as a lab tech with Tarnopol­sky, one of the univer­sity’s most dis­tin­guished re­searchers and a pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics and medicine.

Tarnopol­sky took Saf­dar un­der his wing and in­cluded him in sev­eral projects. The most no­table was a study of the ef­fect ex­er­cise has on the ag­ing process of mice. The more ex­er­cise a mouse has, the slower it ages, they con­cluded.

In Jan­uary 2011, they pub­lished a pa­per on that re­search in the Jour­nal of Bi­o­log­i­cal Chem­istry. This is the pa­per now called into ques­tion.

Around the same time, Saf­dar and Tarnopol­sky also pub­lished a dif­fer­ent pa­per in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences. It was widely praised and Saf­dar re­port­edly re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion when he pre­sented the find­ings at a con­fer­ence. The Spec­ta­tor, and other me­dia, re­ported on the re­search.

Saf­dar won pres­ti­gious awards, in­clud­ing the 2012 Dis­tin­guished Dis­ser­ta­tion Award from the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion for Grad­u­ate Stud­ies.

“To me, this award is the equiv­a­lent to a mini-No­bel Prize at the grad­u­ate level,” he was quoted as say­ing in a Mac news­let­ter.

Tarnopol­sky said at the time: “I had no doubt he would be the best grad­u­ate stu­dent that I ever had or will have. And he was.”

In the spring of 2012, Saf­dar went to Har­vard Univer­sity as a post-doc­toral fel­low. He was there to study how heart dis­ease is linked to di­a­betes and in­sulin re­sis­tance.

That’s when things be­gan to un­ravel. On Dec. 24, 2013 — the day af­ter their daugh­ter was born — Saf­dar told Sara he’d been fired from Har­vard.

“My work at Har­vard was suf­fer­ing,” he tes­ti­fied, be­cause of “the amount of time I was putting into the re­la­tion­ship (with Sara).”

Har­vard de­clined to com­ment for this story.

Days later, the cou­ple and their new­born moved into the fam­ily home in Bin­brook. Saf­dar re­sumed work­ing for Tarnopol­sky.

McMaster says Saf­dar is no longer af­fil­i­ated with Mac. The univer­sity would not elab­o­rate. It is un­clear ex­actly when Saf­dar left.

Tarnopol­sky says when he parted ways with Saf­dar there were “no con­cerns about the in­tegrity of any pa­pers.”

In Feb­ru­ary 2017, Saf­dar — now fac­ing do­mes­tic assault charges — was hired by Hum­ber Col­lege as its re­search chair to de­velop an ap­plied re­search pro­gram fo­cus­ing on health out­comes.

In De­cem­ber, Hum­ber con­firmed Saf­dar worked there and said it knew noth­ing of his charges or that he was cur­rently on trial. A few days later, Hum­ber said Saf­dar was no longer em­ployed there be­cause his con­tract had ex­pired.

Saf­dar, 38, is not cur­rently work­ing. He has cus­tody of his daugh­ter, and Sara, a med­i­cal doc­tor, is pay­ing sup­port.

A few months ago, af­ter sto­ries about the Saf­dar case be­gan ap­pear­ing in The Spec­ta­tor, a whistle­blower reached out to po­lice and the Crown and raised con­cerns about the va­lid­ity of that 2011 Jour­nal of Bi­o­log­i­cal Chem­istry pa­per.

Po­lice in­ter­viewed Tarnopol­sky, and McMaster be­gan an in­ter­nal “aca­demic in­tegrity” in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Crown, Jeff Levy, raised the al­le­ga­tion of dis­hon­esty in court while cross-ex­am­in­ing Saf­dar.

“He has, in fact, been ac­cused of aca­demic dis­hon­esty and (that) he fudged his re­sults,” Levy said.

He sug­gested Saf­dar’s re­search could not have had the re­sults he claimed be­cause Tarnopol­sky’s lab did not even have the equip­ment that could lead to such a re­sult. The Crown said that when Saf­dar was asked to prove his re­search re­sults to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Oc­to­ber 2016, he was un­able to re­pro­duce them.

“That is ab­so­lutely false,” Saf­dar re­sponded from the wit­ness box.

That state­ment was fol­lowed by one of Saf­dar’s few an­gry out­bursts on the stand. It was aimed at Tarnopol­sky.

“I was be­ing bul­lied to sign pa­per­work. I was be­ing abused … I should have made a com­plaint about him. I have not made a com­plaint about him — yet.”

Jus­tice Andrew Good­man shut down Levy’s line of ques­tion­ing.

“Clearly it’s ir­rel­e­vant and in­ad­mis­si­ble,” says lawyer Dean Pa­que­tte, who rep­re­sents Saf­dar at his crim­i­nal trial.

Pa­que­tte says his client has not been aca­dem­i­cally dis­hon­est and will “fully co-op­er­ate” with the on­go­ing McMaster in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Saf­dar is hav­ing dif­fi­culty sched­ul­ing an in­ter­view with Mac, ac­cord­ing to Pa­que­tte, be­cause of his crim­i­nal trial and his fam­ily court trial, where he is now rep­re­sent­ing him­self.

In an in­ter­view with The Spec­ta­tor, Tarnopol­sky said: “My de­ci­sion is that pa­per will be re­tracted.”

Pa­que­tte says he does not know if Saf­dar is aware the 2011 pa­per is be­ing pulled. He says Saf­dar and Tarnopol­sky no longer speak.

Tarnopol­sky says he con­tacted the jour­nal and told it of the al­le­ga­tion. Since March 30, a sus­pen­sion no­tice has ap­peared on­line at the top of the ar­ti­cle, stat­ing: “The pub­lisher of the Jour­nal of Bi­o­log­i­cal Chem­istry is is­su­ing an Ex­pres­sion of Con­cern to in­form read­ers that cred­i­ble con­cerns have been raised re­gard­ing some of the data and con­clu­sions in the ar­ti­cle listed above.”

Tarnopol­sky says all six au­thors of the pa­per, in­clud­ing him­self, went over the re­search and re­sults and found noth­ing sus­pect be­fore they sub­mit­ted it for pub­li­ca­tion. He says in the seven years be­tween pub­li­ca­tion and the re­cent al­le­ga­tion, no­body raised con­cerns.

The al­le­ga­tion, he ex­plains, stems from “blot ma­nip­u­la­tion.” Blots show­ing pro­tein cause a unique pat­tern, al­most like a fin­ger­print. The ac­cu­sa­tion is that Saf­dar used the same blot twice or ma­nip­u­lated a blot.

Though the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the pa­per is on­go­ing, Tarnopol­sky says he is pulling the pa­per re­gard­less of the probe’s re­sults.

“It is crit­i­cal to not have mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion in the lit­er­a­ture,” he says. “Even the al­le­ga­tion ren­ders the pa­per sus­pect.”

The al­le­ga­tion has a rip­ple ef­fect. What about fund­ing the re­searchers had from the Cana­dian In­sti­tutes of Health Re­search and a pri­vate do­na­tion from a fam­ily? What about re­search done by other sci­en­tists that built on con­clu­sions from the sus­pect pa­per? (The pa­per has been cited in at least 15 other ar­ti­cles.) What about the va­lid­ity of Saf­dar’s other pub­lished work?

Hum­ber Col­lege has said, in a news re­lease an­nounc­ing his ap­point­ment, that Saf­dar se­cured more than $2.5 mil­lion in fed­eral re­search grants. (The re­lease also said he “com­pleted” his post-doc­toral fel­low­ship at Har­vard, but Saf­dar ad­mit­ted on the stand that he was fired.) Saf­dar and Tarnopol­sky have pub­lished at least 34 pa­pers to­gether.

Tarnopol­sky says he is “shocked” by the al­le­ga­tion and is adamant he saw noth­ing amiss with the re­search or its con­clu­sions.

“I would have ab­so­lutely noth­ing to gain and ev­ery­thing to lose,” he said.

Prob­lem pre­scrip­tion

IT WAS A PASS­ING ref­er­ence made by Sara dur­ing the trial.

Her hus­band asked his boss, Tarnopol­sky, to write an an­tide­pres­sant pre­scrip­tion for her. Tarnopol­sky obliged and Saf­dar filled it, although Sara says she never took the pills.

The ev­i­dence raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about Tarnopol­sky’s med­i­cal ethics and the pos­si­bil­ity he breached his le­gal obli­ga­tions.

First, Sara didn’t con­sent to the pre­scrip­tion. There is no in­di­ca­tion she even knew about the re­quest.

Sec­ond, Sara was not Tarnopol­sky’s pa­tient. She met him once, court heard, at a party.

Third, Tarnopol­sky did not ex­am­ine Sara, nor would he have le­git­i­mate ac­cess to her med­i­cal records or pre­scrip­tion his­tory.

Fourth, Tarnopol­sky is a pe­di­a­tri­cian, not a psy­chi­a­trist.

The Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of On­tario says: “Be­fore pre­scrib­ing a drug, physi­cians must have cur­rent knowl­edge of the pa­tient’s clin­i­cal sta­tus. This can only be ac­com­plished through an ap­pro­pri­ate clin­i­cal as­sess­ment of the pa­tient.”

Tarnopol­sky de­clined com­ment, cit­ing doc­tor-pa­tient con­fi­den­tial­ity.

This is­sue is even more con­cern­ing given that the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence trial hinges in large part on whether Sara was men­tally ill or the vic­tim of a plot by the Saf­dars to make her appear men­tally ill.

Al­le­ga­tions of pla­gia­rism

ONE EX­PERT WIT­NESS called by the Crown at the Saf­dar trial was Dr. Peter Jaffe, ar­guably Canada’s most knowl­edge­able aca­demic on the is­sue of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Jaffe is a full-time pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Western Univer­sity who has pub­lished dozens of pa­pers and tes­ti­fied at count­less tri­als dur­ing his 40-year ca­reer. He was called to present a sum­mary of aca­demic lit­er­a­ture about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and of­fer his opin­ion on Sara’s men­tal state, based on interviews with her. (He told the court he be­lieved she had never been men­tally ill.)

When Jaffe was cross-ex­am­ined by Lauren Wil­helm, a lawyer for Adeel, things took an un­ex­pected turn.

Wil­helm sug­gested por­tions of a re­port Jaffe pre­pared for the court were pla­gia­rized. Wil­helm said she ran the re­port through Turn It In, a soft­ware pro­gram used by pro­fes­sors (like Jaffe) to de­ter­mine what per­cent­age of an es­say con­sists of pas­sages from pre­vi­ously writ­ten ma­te­rial. Wil­helm said some of Jaffe’s re­port ap­peared else­where, in­clud­ing in stu­dent pa­pers.

The al­le­ga­tion ground the trial to a halt while Good­man lis­tened to ar­gu­ments about it.

Jaffe cited 36 sources in his ref­er­ences at the end of the re­port. He said when he writes for court he does not ap­ply the same stan­dard for ref­er­ences as for an aca­demic pa­per. No court has ever ques­tioned his method be­fore.

Some of the “pla­gia­rism” from stu­dent pa­pers may, in fact, be stu­dent pa­pers quot­ing Jaffe’s own work.

In the end, Good­man strongly ruled against the sug­ges­tion Jaffe pla­gia­rized.

“There is lit­tle doubt — in fact, no doubt — that Dr. Jaffe has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence, train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion … His vast ex­pe­ri­ence and train­ing sug­gest that he is, in fact, a leader in this area of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence … I do not ac­cept that there is any foun­da­tion for the ac­cu­sa­tion, insin­u­a­tion or sug­ges­tion that Dr. Jaffe pla­gia­rized work in the prepa­ra­tion of this re­port … The foun­da­tion for this dire as­ser­tion is ground­less.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. On learn­ing Jaffe may be called as a wit­ness at his fam­ily court trial, Saf­dar wrote a let­ter to the Lon­don Fam­ily Court Clinic, where Jaffe is di­rec­tor emer­i­tus and se­nior con­sul­tant. He once again ac­cused Jaffe of pla­gia­rism — de­spite Good­man’s rul­ing.

“Yes, I did make a com­plaint about Dr. Peter Jaffe,” Saf­dar said when the Crown raised it at the crim­i­nal trial. “I was very afraid that af­ter the cros­sex­am­i­na­tion he faced, he is very bi­ased and he is go­ing to take out his anger on me.”

Saf­dar’s com­plaint was dis­missed by the Lon­don Fam­ily Court Clinic.

Levy told court the let­ter of com­plaint, which did not men­tion the judge ruled against pla­gia­rism, showed Saf­dar is “will­ing to go to any lengths” to get what he wants and “that he’s un­truth­ful.”

The judge said Saf­dar is “en­ti­tled to dis­agree” with him out­side the court­room. Jaffe de­clined com­ment, cit­ing the on­go­ing court cases.

Ly­ing un­der oath

THERE IS DIS­HON­ESTY. And then there is straight up ly­ing.

Sehrish Has­san, wife of ac­cused Aatif Saf­dar, got caught ly­ing un­der oath dur­ing the trial.

The law school grad­u­ate was called to the stand by Pa­que­tte, lawyer for Adeel. Her tes­ti­mony matched — some­times al­most verbatim — Adeel’s tes­ti­mony. They said Sara was men­tally ill and harmed her­self.

Un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, Has­san was smug and haughty.

Crown Levy asked Has­san if she re­viewed the dis­clo­sure given to her hus­band, who is self-rep­re­sented. She said she hadn’t. She re­peated that claim sev­eral times.

Shortly af­ter, Levy learned Has­san pre­pared notes for her tes­ti­mony. He asked the judge to al­low him to see the notes. Pa­que­tte did not ob­ject and the judge or­dered Has­san to pass over the notes.

What hap­pened next is be­ing called a “Perry Ma­son mo­ment” by some at the court­house, re­fer­ring to the fic­tional TV lawyer who dra­mat­i­cally un­earthed ev­i­dence in the court­room to crack the case.

Has­san fum­bled in her bag, even­tu­ally pulling out pa­pers sta­pled to­gether. As she did so, the last page was torn off and left in her bag. She later told the court that was “an ac­ci­dent.” But the lawyers saw what she did and she was made to turn over all the pages.

When the trial re­sumed af­ter a break, Levy asked her again if she’d read the dis­clo­sure. This time, Has­san ad­mit­ted she had. She “mis­spoke” about it when asked ear­lier.

That last page left in her bag said: “I have read ev­ery cor­re­spon­dence/le­gal doc­u­ment/af­fi­davit/po­lice dis­clo­sure we have re­ceived to date, more of­ten than not to ex­plain them to my fam­ily mem­bers.”

“Telling a lie on the wit­ness stand is per­jury,” says Michael Lacy, pres­i­dent of the Crim­i­nal Lawyers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of On­tario. “Ad­mit­ting you told a lie on the wit­ness stand can be used against you for a pros­e­cu­tion of per­jury. De­scrib­ing how you were mis­taken or need to cor­rect an ear­lier an­swer be­cause you mis­spoke is a grey area and is not ob­vi­ous per­jury.”

On read­ing some­one else’s dis­clo­sure, Lacy says “if there is a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to taint ev­i­dence or to fab­ri­cate as­pects of a nar­ra­tive by us­ing the dis­clo­sure, a charge of at­tempt to ob­struct jus­tice might be ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Levy won’t com­ment on whether a charge will be laid.

At the time of her tes­ti­mony Has­san, 30, was work­ing as a law clerk at Hughes Amys firm in Hamil­ton.

Se­nior part­ner Bill Chalmers says Has­san “is no longer work­ing at the firm.” He says de­tails of her de­par­ture are pri­vate.

Has­san told court she hoped to take her ex­ams to prac­tise as a lawyer.

Law So­ci­ety of On­tario com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­viser Su­san Tonkin says li­cens­ing ap­pli­cants are re­quired “to be of good char­ac­ter and to dis­close, among other things, crim­i­nal con­vic­tions, whether they have been sub­ject to a penalty im­posed by a court, ad­min­is­tra­tive tri­bunal or reg­u­la­tory body, or whether there are other mat­ters in their past or present cir­cum­stances that may place their char­ac­ter at is­sue.”

That’s when things be­gan to un­ravel. On Dec. 24, 2013, the day af­ter their daugh­ter was born, Saf­dar told Sara he’d been fired from Har­vard.

Tarnopol­sky did not ex­am­ine Sara, nor would he have le­git­i­mate ac­cess to her med­i­cal records or pre­scrip­tion his­tory.

The re­lease also said he “com­pleted” his post-doc­toral fel­low­ship at Har­vard, but Saf­dar ad­mit­ted on the stand that he was fired.

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