Food Professor’s Pyramid of Shame

If you think Dalhousie professor Sylvain Charlebois courts controversy now, what about that time he was court-martialled and expelled from military college for his involvement in a pyramid scheme?

Readers will recall that Charlebois, the self-styled “Food Professor,” recently threatened to sue a reporter who accused him of unpublishing his resumé because of a reference to research grant dough he once received from the Weston Family of Loblaw fame.

In an exclusive interview™ with the satirical press, Charlebois dismissed the disappearing resumé kerfuffle as the fault of Dal’s slack communications dept.

According to the prof., he “sent a note to the communications folks asking, ‘Why is the link gone?’ They fixed it 24 hours later, but it was too late… Dal’s website is not the greatest.”

OK, but what about getting called out by several academics for fabricating a quote by Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman last month?

Much ado about nothing, quoth Sylvain. The quote was a paraphrase he used because it was easier to understand. “Is it a sloppy way of citing sources? I mean listen, it’s Twitter.”

So how about the court martial and expulsion at Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean that nearly wrecked his academic career before it started?

Well, er, guilty with an explanation.

Upon completion of basic training in 1989, Charlebois enrolled at CMR as an officer cadet. The goal: a Bachelor’s in Administration.

Fast forward to a few months before graduation in the Spring of 1992, and he finds himself up on two charges involving an illegal pyramid scheme. He pleaded guilty, got a reprimand, a nearly $3,000 fine and was booted from the school.

CMR also refused to award his degree, a decision Charlebois fought in court with a lawsuit. He won the first round but the lower court decision was overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 1995.

Charlebois says he eventually reached an agreement with DND that he can’t discuss, but the settlement included the undergrad degree he’d been fighting for. He also points out that he received an honourable discharge from the Canadian Forces.

“It was a very difficult time in my life,” he says. Even after he got his degree, it took him a few years to get his life back on track. He was $40K in the hole from the court fight, and he struggled with depression.   

He calls the pyramid scheme an “embarrassing mistake… I thought everything was legal. Once I realized what was going on, it was too late.”

He says he wasn’t the mastermind, it was run by people outside the college. Over 100 students were involved, he says, but he was “scapegoated.”

“They made me a case because I was influential, what can I say? The commandant at the time picked me as an example. The other officer cadets graduated no problem.”

But just when he thought he was out of controversies, another one pulls him back in.

You’ll recall the social media pissing match which began when the Food Professor claimed an academic study soft-pedalled the effect the carbon tax will have on food prices. When Dr. Jennifer Winter, one of the study’s authors, politely stepped up to explain herself, Charlebois scoffed: “Looked at your academic profile on Scopus. I’m good.”

@jenwinter_YYC tried to engage  @FoodProfessor in good faith. She received a reply that only an asshole would write,”
Université Laval Economics prof Stephen Gordon tweeted.

Cue a raft of harassment complaints, filed by Dr. Winter with Dal and a collection of other institutions he’s been associated with. A speaking gig at the University of Luxembourg was one casualty of her letter-writing campaign, so Charlebois sent his own complaint to the U of Calgary, now leaked to the satirical press:

“It has come to my attention that she has filed similar complaints with several other universities and journals with which I am affiliated… further tarnishing my reputation without any justifiable cause… represents a deliberate attempt to harm my professional standing and personal well-being. The impact of Dr. Winter’s campaign has been deeply distressing, not just for me but also for my family…”

Charlebois says he contacted Winter back in April to apologize, but she didn’t respond.

“The calling out culture we’re all in – right now, people are led to believe they’re victims. Was my tweet back to Jennifer harassment? No. Was it insulting? Probably. I get insulted on Twitter all the time. I don’t accuse people of harassment.”

Charlebois, who is a familiar talking head with CTV and a columnist with Postmedia, says he’s no conservative shill.

In fact, he claims to have been uncomfortable with Pee-wee Poilievre’s recent endorsement of one of his tweets:

“I saw Poilievre politicizing my citation and I thought, ‘Oh boy, that’s not good.’ As soon as politicians do that, as an academic, you get into trouble because you’re seen as aligning towards one party versus another. As an academic, that’s murder. Some colleagues don’t like academics to be aligned with the Conservative party – which I’m not.”

No?! You coulda fooled us!


    • A very different response than what I received from him a couple of years ago when he denied it during #buttergate. He said it was a made-up personal attack. He accused me of being “not nice” (because what? women are expected to be “nice”?) despite the fact I was simply trying to stand by the dairy industry. He said he would report me and then block me. He blocked me. I have most of those messages saved, Frank. Feel free to reach out. He has too much influence in media, the government and most importantly, Canadian purchasers. I was very troubled at the time that he was a professor, had his own consulting business and was ubiquitous in the media. I copied some of his previous CVs that included his business’s consulting. I will try to find them.

  1. Full marks, even an A+, to anyone who can dig out the Quebec Court of Appeal decision and post it here. (I’ve tried CANLII.)

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