Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Unmuzzling Scientific Freedom

Well it’s about time. Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is launching an investigation into allegations that the federal government is muzzling Canadian scientists. The following departments are part of the investigation: Environment Canada, Department Of Fisheries & Oceans, Natural Resources Canada, National Research Council Of Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department Of National Defence.

A complaint was launched by the Environmental Law Clinic of the University Of Victoria and by Democracy Watch. They produced a report: Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat To Democracy. For example the report claims that in November, 2007 Environment Canada issued a new protocol requiring all media calls to be routed through the department’s Ottawa headquarters. Three years later the department noted the media coverage of climate change science had been reduced by over 80%. In October, 2011 Environment Minister Peter Kent is alleged to have prevented federal ozone scientist, David Tarasick, from speaking about a study he co-authored in Nature on the Arctic ozone hole. And in April, 2012 government media minders were sent to an international polar conference in Montreal to monitor and record what Environment Canada scientists said to reporters.

I’ve heard of reports of documents being freely available on government web sites, only to be later taken down. And it’s not the departments being looked at that control information, the Ministry Of Transportation does too. One person reported that when you ask Amtrak for information on certain routes, you get it, but when you ask VIA for the same type of information they hide it.

The alleged government muzzling of Canadian scientists has drawn negative attention in such publications as Nature and The Economist. Nature had this to say, “...Canada’s generally positive foreign reputation as a progressive, scientific national masks some startlingly poor behavior. The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.”

I agree and I also agree with a Conservative MP who said, “In my view, scientists should stick to science.” To which I add and for governments to keep their nose out of it and to allow the free flow of information, which democracy and a free press is based on. Hopefully the Federal Information Commissioner’s investigation will force the government to do just that.