Thanking Sarah Bennett, REBC’s Inaugural Advisory Council Chair

16 March 2021

Sarah Bennett, REBC Advisory Council’s outgoing and inaugural Chair, concluded her term in January 2021. The Research Ethics BC Team wishes to extend their sincere gratitude to her, and Paola Pinto Vidal recently met with Sarah via ZOOM to discuss and reflect on her experience. 

Sarah started by sharing her thoughts on the achievements of REBC, especially the ‘grass-roots first’ model:

I think that the ideals [of] our group really surfaced so that there isn’t one dominant voice. It’s embedded in who we are [and] the diversity that we have with an equity-forward lens in research ethics [is] so important.

Sarah brought nearly 14 years of experience working in research ethics in BC to her role as the Chair, including Fraser Health, UBC, Simon Fraser University, and her current role managing the Research Ethics and Compliance Office at Island Health. She shared her gratitude to mentors such as Laurel Evans (UBC Director of Research Ethics and REBC Advisory Council member) and Holly Longstaff (PHSA Privacy Director and REBC Advisory Council member) as well as confidence that the values of equity and inclusion will continue with the new Co-Chairs of the REBC Advisory Council:

 I [am] really excited with the new Chairs, Namaste and Jude coming in, by their voices and what I’ve learned from them. [I have learned] to assert an ethics first approach and to hold your space, that your integrity and your authenticity is what carries you [and] to listen to the people who have experience that you don’t [and] be humble and open to it.

Correspondingly, the new Co-Chairs share similar sentiments of Sarah’s trailblazing efforts for harmonization in British Columbia – in particular, her strong commitment to decolonization and supporting Indigenous-led research ethics.

“It is a privilege to work with Sarah,” noted Namaste Marsden, “In addition to her foundational work with Research Ethics BC and its predecessor organization BCEHI, Sarah is committed to creating innovation in research ethics in BC.”

Namaste paid particular tribute to the Sarah’s work with facilitating the Cowichan Tribes community and nation-based ethics review recently described in “Bringing Ethics Review Home to Cowichan: Indigenizing Ethics Review in British Columbia, Canada.” Namaste stressed how this was an excellent model of how some nations will be looking to be self-determined in research ethics, and Sarah played an instrumental role in that process.

I can foresee this new model is the beginning of the ongoing work to transform colonial processes that are largely institutional, to nation-based control of their research at every stage.

Jude Kornelsen concurs, stating that “[w]e enjoy the luxury of stepping into the pioneering work Sarah and Terri have accomplished with REBC, underscored by the strong principled approach to equity and inclusion.” She continued:

Success in continuing this agenda will be our North Star and achieving it will be due to the foundation Sarah has set.

Jean Ruiz, REBC’s Senior Advisor and Solutions Liaison and the Senior Behavioural Research Ethics Analyst of UBC’s Behavioural Research Ethics office, also reflected on Sarah’s leadership.

“Sarah brought humanity and passion to everything she did,” she recalled. “Working with Sarah always kept you on your toes, pushed you to go one step further, to argue for or rather, just always do the right thing. REBC could not have had a better inaugural chair.”

Colleague Gillian Corless, Senior Advisor, Indigenous Research Ethics for REBC and the First Nations Health Authority, reiterated her colleagues’ sentiments.

“I have so much regard for Sarah and how she prioritizes being inclusive of all voices at the table. I have been consistently impressed with how Sarah is willing to lead change within an organization by putting herself forward and just getting started. She’s practical and down-to-earth, serious but also fun to work with.”

Sarah emphasized that she would not completely disappear from the work of REBC. She affirmed that she’ll help ensure that strong ties would be maintained with research ethics board administrators and that she would remain deeply committed to this in her continuing work. The maintenance of relationships, she noted, is critical to how REBC grows and maintains itself, incorporating those valuable voices, like patient partners, and a wide swath of the research ethics larger community.

“I feel like our legacy will be to truly build good work with our Indigenous colleagues we need to make it safe and have humility to amplify those voices,” she affirmed. “Amplifying takes courage, and it takes being out in front, it takes people saying that will work institutionally. I think change starts [like] that wonderful Margaret Mead quote: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.’

Terri Fleming, REBC’s Unit Director, summarized Sarah’s foundational work.

“I want to say a heartfelt thank you and pay tribute to Sarah,” she stated. “Having worked with her since 2013, I feel that her passion for research ethics has moved us all during our journey together.”

“Starting as an initiative to find a harmonized approach, through the development of successful models, and eventually joining Research Ethics BC, Sarah has been there throughout,” she continued. “I think she will continue to be a force for change.”