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Research Ethics Approval

Any clinical or behavioural study that involves human participants requires ethics review and approval to ensure that the research meets federal ethical requirements and protects the welfare of study participants.

Research ethics review is a process of initial and ongoing review and monitoring of research involving human participants.

PHSA and its programs are subject to The Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. This is a joint policy of Canada's three federal research agencies – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Research ethics boards assess a proposed study's ethical acceptability against this policy and its core principles of research ethics: respect for persons, concern for welfare, and justice.

Ethics reviews for research conducted at PHSA programs are done under the auspices of the University of British Columbia. Some exceptions exist; refer to our documentation on requirements and processes related to ethics review for SFU-affiliated researchers and ethics review for research at Forensic Psychiatric Services (password protected).


Research ethics boards (REBs) are independent committees of experts who act on behalf of a parent institution (e.g. hospital or research institute) to review the ethical acceptability of research. REBs can approve, reject, propose modifications to, or terminate any proposed or ongoing research involving human participants. 

REBs are independent of the parent institution in their decision-making, and they are required to operate free of inappropriate influence, including situations of real, potential or perceived conflict of interest. The parent institution may not override REB decisions concerning the ethical acceptability of a study.

PHSA has an agreement with the University of British Columbia (UBC) to provide ethical review and approval for research conducted at PHSA and its programs. In addition to UBC's Clinical and Behavioural REBs at its Point Grey campus and a Behavioural REB at its Okanagan campus, there are joint Clinical and Behavioural REBs operating at two PHSA sites: the UBC-BC Cancer REB is located at BC Cancer and the UBC-C&W REB is located at Children's & Women's Oak Street site.

Clinical research ethics boards are responsible for reviewing research that involves surgery, clinical interventions, exercise programs and/or the analysis of clinical data. Behavioural Research Ethics Boards review behavioural or social sciences/humanities research, or research that may involve the study of patients or health care providers.

The specific REB receiving and reviewing an application will depend on the location of the research and the primary affiliation of the principal investigator.  

Level of REB review

As permitted by The Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, UBC's process for reviewing new applications varies according to the level of risk that research participants could experience as a result of the particular type of research procedures used. Research projects may be designated "minimal risk" if they meet specific criteria as outlined in UBC's Guidance Notes:

If a project fits the criteria of minimal risk, it will undergo a Delegated Review conducted by a single REB reviewer. There are no submission deadlines for Delegated Reviews because they don't require a meeting of the full REB.

All other REB applications require full board review.  To avoid delay and missing deadlines for full board review, please be sure to check the submission deadlines and meeting dates for your REB.

Submission process

A research study's Principal Investigator is responsible for submitting a human ethics application to a Research Ethics Board (REB).  Here are the general steps for submission:

1.       Determine your REB

You will submit your ethics application to the appropriate PHSA-affiliated REB. The REB will depend on your research site and your affiliation/appointment.

Reviews are conducted as follows:

  • UBC-BCCA REBs (Clinical and Behavioural) are located at the BC Cancer Agency and provide ethics review for all adult oncology-related research conducted at the BC Cancer Agency.
  • UBC-C&W REBs (Clinical and Behavioural) are located at the Children's & Women's Oak Street site and provides ethics review for research conducted at:
    • BC Children's Hospital and Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children
    • BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services
    • BC Women's Hospital & Health Centre
    • BC Children's Hospital Research Institute
    • BC Mental Health and Addictions Research Institute 
    • Women's Health Research Institute
  • UBC REBs (Clinical and Behavioural), located on the Point Grey campus, provide ethics review for projects conducted at the BC Centre for Disease Control.
  • BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services (BCMSUS) Research approval, conducted after an affiliated university REB has approved the project. Contact BCMSUS for additional information and review guidelines (password protected).
  • Projects for agencies that do not have their own REB are often reviewed by a UBC-C&W REB. Contact the UBC-C&W REB Administrative Coordinator for more information at 604-875-3103, email:  

PHSA-affiliated REBs and the Providence Health Care REB have a "One Board of Record agreement". This means that you can submit a single application to cover research taking place in multiple UBC-affiliated locations. Research taking place in additional locations in British Columbia may be eligible for harmonized review; visit the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative for more information.

2.       Review & complete site-specific requirements

The requirements for preparing and submitting your ethics review can vary depending on the site. Familiarize yourself with the steps you must follow to submit to the following REBs:

3.       Go online to submit

Ethics applications are submitted through UBC's RISe system. (If you are not affiliated with UBC, please follow the process outlined at your site.)

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SOURCE: Research Ethics Approval ( )
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