Friday, November 7, 2014


While the United States government under President Obama has new policies that not only allow government scientists to speak with journalists, but allow them to call journalists and discuss their work, Canada's federal Conservative government led by Prime Minister Harper has established new policies that hide government research and valuable information Canadians have paid for – policies that are the same as those George W. Bush put in place when he was U.S. President.
Though the Conservatives deny muzzling Canadian government scientists, Democracy Watch and the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria recently highlighted clear examples of muzzling and filed a complaint with the federal Information Commissioner, who accepted the complaint and is investigating the situations to see if they amount to an illegal denial of government information:
Scientist Kristi Miller was blocked from speaking to the media about her research into sockeye salmon for months;
Scientist Scott Dallimore and his team were told they needed to get approval from the Minister before they could talk to journalists about their study of a flood that occurred in Northern Canada almost 13,000 years ago - this approval was eventually granted after journalists' deadlines had passed;
After an extensive beef recall in 2012 George DaPont, president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was interrupted during a live interview by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and taken off stage;
Tom Spears, a journalist with the Ottawa Citizen, called the National Research Council for some basic information about a joint Canada/U.S. study on snowfall patterns.  While he was able to speak with a NASA scientist and get the information he needed in 15 minutes, the response from Canada came a day after his deadline because it was delayed by 11 employees sending over 50 emails discussing whether they should give him an interview and what the "tone" of his request was;
Canadian scientists at the International Polar Year 2012 conference were told, if approached by journalists, to "ask them for their business card and tell them you will get back to them with a time for [an] interview."  Media relations employees also followed Canadian government scientists to monitor and record their conversations;
David Tarasick was prevented from speaking about his research titled "Unprecedented Arctic ozone loss in 2011″ for two weeks after the report was released;
Scientists attending the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 32nd annual meeting were given a "Q&A Package" containing 20 expected questions and the answers to be given by designated spokespersons as well as directions to respond to some questions with "I am a scientist. I'm not in a position to answer that question, but I'd be happy to refer you to the appropriate spokesperson."

This is a key time to call for change because Canada's Information Commissioner is currently looking into how to strengthen the federal government's open government system — your letter will also be sent to her office!

Democracy Watch is not funded by corporations or the government. 

Prime Minister Harper needs to hear from you now that you want an end to the muzzling of federal government scientists, and that you want the federal government made more open and transparent.

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