Honoring UBC IRSI IAC Members: In conversation with Laurel Evans


With over 20 years of experience in research ethics, Laurel oversees the operations of the research ethics boards at the university and its affiliated hospitals. The position is responsible for ensuring that ethics processes and policies at the University meet local, provincial, national and international requirements. Her prior experience includes positions at McMaster University and St. Michael’s Hospital. At McMaster University, Laurel served as a senior ethics advisor, legal counsel for clinical research contracts, and an adjunct professor of health law, policy, and ethics in the health studies and health sciences programs. At St. Michael’s Hospital, she reviewed research contracts and worked on special projects. Laurel was also the legal representative on the Ontario Cancer Research Ethics Board.

UBC Indigenous Research Support Initiative (IRSI) takes guidance from an Indigenous Advisory Committee (IAC) comprised of members from Indigenous communities as well as faculty, staff and students from both UBC campuses. The committee's purpose is to provide culturally-relevant advice, leadership and support to inform IRSI's strategic direction and members are chosen to bring to the table expertise in a variety of relevant disciplines. Laurel has been a key member of the UBC Vancouver advisory committee for 5 years and is leaving this year. To honor her time in the IAC, IRSI sat down with Laurel to highlight her insights, wisdom and experiences with us. 

Please tell us about your interest in Indigenous, community-based research and why you decided to join UBC IRSI’s Indigenous Advisory Committee?

I am the director of Research Ethics at UBC, where we conduct both behavioral and ethical reviews. There is an intersection between behavioral studies with Indigenous research because many of those types of studies are presented to the board for review. I think the Indigenous group wanted someone with expertise in ethics because that’s a highlight or pillar that they are working toward as an ethical framework.


Over the years that you have been with the IRSI IAC, what aspirations have you seen manifested for Indigenous, community-based research and what have not?

I’ve seen an exponential growth in awareness and sensitivity in and around Indigenous culture and the need to adopt safe practices and dispose of Western colonized views. I think there have been sincere efforts from both the community and UBC researchers to start communicating better on that plane. In terms of the aspirations that I’m not seeing being met, there is still not a complete trust and a complete sense of safety on the part of the Indigenous community. We are working on it, but we are still not there. Too much of the time, unfortunately, there is more talk and less action. And it hasn’t been internalized in the way it needs to be internalized, but that could take years.


What are some of the biggest highlights and challenges from your time on the committee?

The biggest highlights were the in-person meetings that IRSI held with the communities. Those were awesome experiences and really the only way to really understand what the community is about and their interests and concerns. The challenges are two-fold, the hiatus in staff that occurred a couple of years ago. The lack of knowledge of what direction we are going is related to and includes the external review or review process. The University has been trying to impose a Western process on the review of IRSI operations and it’s gotten everybody confused, so we are now making our way through, but it’s been very challenging.


What are some of the key insights or learnings that you would like to share about your involvement with UBC IRSI, your time on the IRSI IAC and what are your hopes for the future?

The key insight that I gained when I started working with the group was you have to be humble. Humility is an absolute necessity; people appreciate your opinion but you have to think about it before you speak and you have to really build trust before you can start to criticize or make judgements. And so, I think coming into the whole process with a sense of humility is the major advice I would give to anyone. And in terms of what we’ve done well, is that we are creating the message that community engagement and continuous engagement, feedback, etc. is necessary but we still haven’t internalized the Indigenous ways and so sometimes they are given an afterthought or just a brief consideration, they're not instilled into the cultural fabric of what the researchers are doing and what the community needs done, and that’s the primary challenge.


Tell us more about what you are currently working on and what comes next for you.

My challenges right now are in relation to harmonization on the national scale of ethical review. And that is something that is a necessity and has been discussed and is being worked on, but it took us 10-15 years to get the province harmonized and I’m not sure how long it will take the nation to get harmonized, but that is a major focus of what I’m working on in the moment.


In your own words what would you say has been the most transformative part of your journey with Indigenous research?

I don’t think there has been one single event or anything, it is a continuum. It is the continuous involvement and continuous learning and communication and building up of trust. I don’t think there's any one item or area where you could say, well that was the highlight or that was where I got the most out of it.


What would be your leaving message to VPRI and UBC leadership about IRSI?

More action, less talk.