Monday, March 11, 2013

Canada's Ruling Conservative Government is Trying to Silence American Scientists

Canadian scientists have been muzzled by Ottawa, now Harper's ruling Conservatives are trying to silence American researchers as well. In February, Postmedia News reported that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans demanded that scientists on a joint Canada-US Arctic research project sign a sweeping confidentiality agreement.

One American oceanographer researching climate change project said the Canadian federal government is limiting his academic freedom.

According to a 28-page report from.Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre access to scientific information is now controlled by the government's media relations offices. Media relations now decide who researchers are allowed to talk to, and they routinely deny interviews. When they are permitted to speak they are given scripts containing ‘approved lines.’

The report reviewed repeated examples of government censorship across multiple government departments including Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada, the National Research Council, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and National Defense

In one case the government did not want  researchers to disclose their finding that BC salmon stocks are in decline, in another the government did not want scientists to present their evidence for Arctic ozone loss Federal scientist David Tarasick recently claimed he was prevented from talking about a large ozone hole above the Arctic.

Veteran science journalist Margaret Munro told a group gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science that this kind of control from the federal government is just the way things are done now.

"It's pretty clear that for federal scientists, Ottawa decides now if the researchers can talk, what they can talk about and when they can say it," she said.

This form of government censorship is a means of preventing the world from seeing the impacts of climate change in Canada. This should come as no surprise when you consider that the Ruling Conservative's are ardent supporters of the tar sands.

As explained by biologist and climate change researcher Andrea Smith, this goes beyond science and strikes at the heart of Canada's democracy.

"This muzzling and intimidation of government scientists is bad news for all Canadians. Free and timely communication between researchers and the media and public is essential for a healthy democracy. The public relies on this flow of information to become informed, and to benefit fully from the research we are funding with our tax dollars. But the federal government has politicized media and public access to federal scientists, undermining a basic democratic right," Smith Said.

At least one environmental law group describes this as a serious threat to Canada's democracy and a breach of the federal Access to Information Act.

"The whole idea of democracy is that the public can make wise decisions. But they can't make wise decisions if they don't have the facts, if government facts are hidden from them," said Calvin Sandborn, legal director of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre.

Thankfully, some American scientists working in Canada flatly refused to sign the government's confidentiality agreement. It would appear that Canadians could learn a thing or two about defending democracy from these researchers.

The Harper government has gutted environmental research and is now denying citizens the right to hear directly from the remaining federal scientists. This is not just about ignoring the facts to grow the nation's economy, nor can this be limited to the abuse of Canada's democracy, this is about obfuscation that denies future generations the right to a healthy environment.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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