Statements by scientists must be approved by Canada’s Conservative government

The Canadian government has been accused of “muzzling” its scientists. Speakers at a major science meeting being held in Canada said communication of vital research on health and environment issues is being suppressed…

Prof Thomas Pedersen, a senior scientist at the University of Victoria, said he believed there was a political motive in some cases.

“The Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) is keen to keep control of the message, I think to ensure that the government won’t be embarrassed by scientific findings of its scientists that run counter to sound environmental stewardship,” he said. “I suspect the federal government would prefer that its scientists don’t discuss research that points out just how serious the climate change challenge is…”

The allegation of “muzzling” came up at a session of the AAAS meeting to discuss the impact of a media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008.

The protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories.

Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview.

Andrew Weaver, an environmental scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, described the protocol as “Orwellian”. Professor Weaver said that information is so tightly controlled that the public is “left in the dark”.

“The only information they are given is that which the government wants, which will then allow a supporting of a particular agenda,” he said…

The most notorious case is of that of Dr Kristi Miller, who is head of molecular genetics for the Department for Fisheries and Oceans. Dr Miller had been investigating why salmon populations in western Canada were declining.

The investigation, which was published in one of the leading scientific journals in the world, Science, seemed to suggest that fish might have been exposed to a virus associated with cancer.

The suggestion raised many questions, including whether the virus might have been imported by the local aquaculture industry.

The journal felt this to be an important study and put out a press release, which it sent out to thousands of journalists across the world. Dr Miller was named as the principal contact.

However, the government declined all requests to interview Dr Miller. It said it was because she was due to give evidence to a judicial inquiry on the issue of falling fish stocks…

Fisheries and Oceans Canada declined a request by the BBC to interview Kristi Miller for this article. Dr Miller told us she would have been willing to be interviewed had her department given her permission…

RTFA. Seems that more comparisons between the Harper regime and the Bush/Cheney cabal we suffered through in the United States need to be made.

Perhaps the same sort of solution would be as timely – on behalf of Canadians who would like to know what their government is up to in their name? When’s the next election in Canada?

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