Terms of Reference

These Terms of Reference were approved by the Deputy Minister on: March 4th, 2014.


As a science based department Health Canada relies upon the best and most up-to-date scientific evidence to support its overall mission to help Canadians maintain and improve their health. There are several processes in place to assist the Department in receiving scientific evidence and advice including internal scientific research, external scientific advisory committees, and the Science Advisory Board (SAB).

Established in 1997, the SAB has a unique role in that it aims to facilitate discussion among senior management at the highest levels within the Department and external science experts that rests on sound science and involves considering other interests, values, and sources of knowledge (e.g., ethics, public opinion, and history). It has contributed to the Department's science policy decision making in several key areas such as biobanking, pediatric research, and environmental health studies.

As part of good management practice, there have been at least two reviews of the SAB since its inception to ensure that it continues to function under its mandate and contributes to the Department's mission. In 2012, the SAB underwent a further review precipitated somewhat by the Government's efforts toward deficit reduction. The review recognized that the significance of the SAB's overall role to senior management needed to be balanced by current resource issues. Consequently, the changes being introduced in these revised SAB terms of reference aim to improve the impact of the SAB's advice by engaging more directly with the Deputy Minister and senior management and increase efficiencies in the SAB operations.

1. Authority

The SAB is established under the authority of the Deputy Minister. The Deputy Minister, therefore, has the responsibility and sole authority to make decisions with respect to the SAB's mandate, operations, and potential follow-through of its advice or recommendations within the Department.

2. Mandate

The SAB's mandate is to provide the Deputy Minister, Associate Deputy Minister, regulatory Assistant Deputy Ministers, and other senior decision-makers with a forum for science-based discussions founded on independent, objective advice and guidance.

SAB discussions will consist of both a formal and an informal component.

The formal component of the agenda provides senior management with an opportunity to engage external SAB members on a variety of pre-selected science-related topics relevant to the Department. These targeted discussions might involve SAB considerations on critical or emerging science issues facing the Department, program or branch level science governance initiatives, planned science and research activities, and science communication.

The informal component will allow senior management and external SAB members to freely engage in science discussions without pre-set limits in terms of structure or content. Discussions might focus on drawing interconnections among science issues such as research ethics, foresight and hindsight, intellectual property, decision-making, and public engagement on science. Through such informal engagements insights will emerge that will assist the Department's senior science managers in future science planning, risk management, and decision making.

In addition to the formal and informal components, the SAB, or individual SAB members, might be engaged, on an ad-hoc basis, to address a particular science question or concern. For example, the Deputy Minister might ask a SAB member to clarify the science issues around the dual-use of a certain health product.

SAB discussions will represent its advice to the Department.

3. Governance

The SAB will report directly to the Deputy Minister.

3.1 Secretariat

The SAB Secretariat is housed in the Science Policy Directorate of the Strategic Policy Branch. The Secretariat is the administrative liaison between SAB members and Health Canada.

The responsibilities of the Secretariat include to:

  1. coordinate the external member appointment process;
  2. coordinate the preparation of meeting materials;
  3. support public access to information about the SAB, as appropriate;
  4. assist with a review of the SAB, as required.

4. Membership

4.1 Membership considerations

4.1.1 External Members

The SAB will consist of a maximum of 5-6 members external to the Department appointed, at pleasure, by the Deputy Minister.

External membership will include scientists from disciplines relevant to the mandate of Health Canada such as, epidemiology, toxicology, chemistry, pharmacology, environmental health, and human physiology. External membership will also include an individual with expertise in health law and ethics.

Consideration will also be given to the following: experience with science management issues; availability and willingness to serve; professional standing; demonstrated ability to provide impartial advice and exercise independent judgment.

External SAB members serve as individuals on the basis of their expertise. They do not represent organizations, and should neither request nor receive instruction from any person or organization external to the SAB in order to provide their advice to the Deputy Minister.

4.1.2 Internal Members

Internal membership will consist of the following:

  • Deputy Minister;
  • Associate Deputy Minister;
  • Assistant Deputy Minister of the Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch;
  • Assistant Deputy Minister of the Health Products and Food Branch;
  • Executive Director of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and;
  • Senior Medical Advisor to the Deputy Minister.

In order to achieve the SAB's mandate, internal members cannot delegate their attendance to SAB meetings.

4.1.3 Invited Guests

Depending on subject matter of the meeting, guests such as the Chief Public Health Officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Chief Scientific Officer of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research may be invited to attend SAB meetings.

4.2 Roles and Responsibilities

4.2.1 External Members

External SAB members have a responsibility to Health Canada and, by extension, to Canadians, to give their best advice to Health Canada. Members fulfill their roles through their integrity, expertise, experience, and openness to the dialogue and deliberation.

Other responsibilities may include:

  • be available and prepared to participate in SAB meetings, including Internet-based meetings, email exchanges, conference calls, and videoconferencing;
  • participate in any orientation activities related to the Department's science activities;
  • notify the Secretariat of any changes in their affiliations and interests during the time they are members;
  • direct any media inquiries to the Secretariat and notify the Secretariat about the inquiry.

4.2.2 Internal Members

Internal members have the responsibility to participate in the preparation of the formal and informal aspects of the SAB agenda.

This may include preparing briefing material on specific science-related issues tabled for discussion at a SAB meeting. The material will serve as background information for external SAB members.

In addition, internal members are responsible to actively participate in SAB meetings, in particular during the informal discussions, to ensure an adequate exchange of perspectives and points of view necessary for fruitful discussions.

4.3 Chair

The Deputy Minister will chair SAB meetings.

4.4 Affiliations and Interests

To be considered for appointment, external members of the SAB are required to complete and return the Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form.

In keeping with the  Privacy Act, a completed Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form is considered confidential. Health Canada will not make public any information in the form without the external member's permission. However, as a condition of membership, external members will allow Health Canada to publish, on its website and in print, a Summary of Expertise, Experience, and Affiliations and Interests, based on the completed declaration form.

External members must update their declaration in writing whenever their situation changes.

Health Canada will review declarations before making appointments and on an ongoing basis, but at least on an annual basis, as well as any time the SAB mandate is changed.

External members are expected to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. They may not use their position on the SAB for their private gain, or for the gain of any other person, company, or organization.

4.5 Confidentiality

To support their ability to provide well-informed advice, external SAB members may receive confidential information. Every external member must sign a Confidentiality Agreement before participating on the SAB.

The Confidentiality Agreement prohibits the disclosure of any confidential information received through participation on the SAB, including information received orally or in writing, through email correspondence, telephone calls, print materials, meeting discussions, etc.

Health Canada will mark information according to the level to which it is protected under the  Policy on Government Security.

4.6 Security clearance

All external members are required to attain an appropriate security clearance which may require them to submit fingerprints to the RCMP. Health Canada provides the required forms to candidates for appointment.

4.7 Indemnification

All external members serve on the SAB on a volunteer basis. Health Canada undertakes to provide its volunteer SAB members with protection against civil liability provided the volunteer member acts in good faith, within the scope of their volunteer duties, and does not act against the interests of the Crown.

External members act as advisors to Health Canada and are not decision-makers. The Deputy Minister has the ultimate responsibility and accountability for any decision resulting from the advice received from the SAB.

4.8 Travel and expenses

External members will be reimbursed for expenses incurred on approved travel for the SAB, such as trip costs and accommodation, according to the Treasury Board's  Directive on the Management of Expenditures on Travel, Hospitality and Conferences

4.9 Tenure

External members are appointed by the Deputy Minister for a 3-year renewable term and can serve for a maximum of two terms.

4.10 Resignation process

It is preferable for an external member to provide 14-day notice of the intent to resign.

4.11 Reasons for termination

Health Canada may end an external member's appointment by writing stating the reasons the appointment is being concluded and the effective date. Appointments may end for a variety of reasons, for example, the external member's term is complete, or the SAB's mandate has changed, thus requiring a different membership. An appointment may also be ended for cause when, for example, an external member fails to act according to these Terms of Reference, or breaks the Confidentiality Agreement, or misses three consecutive meetings without a satisfactory reason.

4.12 Media and communications

An external member may discuss SAB work with the media, at conferences, or other external events only with prior permission from the Secretariat.

All media requests related to the SAB statements or activities must be directed to Media Relations, Health Canada, who will coordinate responses with the Secretariat and the designated media spokesperson.

5. Management and Administration

5.1 Transparency

Health Canada is committed to transparency as an operating principle. Transparency of the SAB is served by ensuring that meeting schedules are predictable, where possible, and posting materials on Health Canada's website. These materials include the following: terms of reference; biographies of external members; summary of expertise, experience, and affiliations and interests of external members; and meeting summaries.

5.2 Meeting notice and invitations

All meetings are scheduled at the call of the Deputy Minister.

5.3 Frequency, type, and location of meetings

Meetings will be held two to three times a year in the National Capital Region. Additional meetings, or teleconferences, may be held as needed.

For teleconferences, and other similar meetings, external members must make every effort to ensure that a secure line is used and that no one else can listen to the discussion.

5.4 Meeting Summaries

Meeting summaries will summarize the proceedings to effectively reflect the discussion. Remarks will not be attributed to individuals.

Meeting summaries will be prepared by the Secretariat and circulated to members for review and confirmation.

Approved meeting summaries may be posted on Health Canada's website.

5.5 SAB Operational and Mandate Review

A review will be conducted every two years to determine whether administrative, management, or other improvements are required to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the SAB. A review may also be carried out to determine the ongoing relevance of the SAB's mandate.

During the review process, feedback may be sought from the SAB members.

The review may be conducted by Health Canada officials, or by consultants hired by Health Canada. The Review Report will be submitted to the Deputy Minister, who may then authorize its distribution to SAB members.

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