Has Canada's government been muzzling its scientists?

Microphone Journalists say the rules prevent scientists talking about publicly-funded research

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Canada's Information Commission is to investigate claims that the government is "muzzling" its scientists.

The move is in response to a complaint filed by academics and a campaign group.

BBC News reported last year instances of the government blocking requests by journalists to interview scientists.

Some scientists alleged that the muzzling could help suppress environmental concerns about government policies.

The former president of the Canadian Science Writers' Association, Veronique Morin, says that the commissioner's office will now have to find out if the federal government has in effect been operating a policy of censorship.

"Vital stories pertaining to the environment, natural resources, food safety, fisheries and oceans are not coming out in Canada because, for several years now, the government has imposed rules which prevents its scientists from speaking freely about their publicly funded research," she said.

"I am thrilled that the information commissioner has decided to take this on, and I am looking forward to the commission's report."

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reports that the Information Commission is investigating seven government departments: Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources, National Defence, the Treasury Board Secretariat, National Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The investigation is in response to a complaint filed by the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre (ELC) and the campaign group Democracy Watch.

Timely access

In a letter to the ELC, the assistant information commissioner, Emily McCarthy, stated her office is investigating possible violations of the Access to Information Act.

"The commissioner has concluded that, to the extent that your complaint alleges that the right of access to information under the Act is impeded by government policies, practices or guidelines that restrict or prohibit government scientists from speaking with the media and the Canadian public, your complaint falls within the scopeā€¦ of the Act," she said.

The ELC asked for an investigation into "the systematic efforts of the government of Canada to obstruct the right of the media - and through them, the Canadian public - to timely access to government scientists."

The report notes that the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) and the Canadian Science Writers' Association have both complained about the lack of "timely access" to government scientists.

Prof Jean-Marc Fleury, director of the WFSJ, said: "Canadian science journalists' fight against the Canadian government obstructing access to government researchers has finally achieved a major step forward."

The Canadian government has repeatedly denied allegations of muzzling rather a strict application of a "media protocol" set out by the governing Conservatives, shortly after their election in 2008.

The aim of the protocol, according to a leaked internal document, is to ensure that all messages from scientists are along "approved lines". The government's stated protocol is that ministers and senior civil servants should not be "surprised" by what they read in the newspapers.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @I am not as think as you drunk I am
    1) I do live in Ontario
    2) I despise governments, of any stripe, who lie or try to control the message (practically all governments).
    3) Harper is a lot more controlling than Chretien ever was.
    4) Your case still stinks. And there is very little balance

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    "The Canadian government has repeatedly denied allegations of muzzling rather a strict application of a "media protocol" set out by the governing Conservatives, shortly after their election in 2008."

    Muzzling (or censorship) by any other name.... I'm glad to see media outside of Canada helping to shine a light on some of the skullduggery that is happening in our supposedly enlightened country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    1.Tom W
    Scientists have an anoying habit of speaking the truth, even when it contrdicts government policy.
    or they shut their mouths and toe the line / agenda when their funding and position is under threat.
    Its just like the UEA when 220,000 further emails from the climategate were made available on line. Drew their lawyers like a gun to get the link removed. What they got to hide ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    @I am not as think as you drunk I am
    4) Harper has consistently tried to control the message being output not only from scientists but from all levels of government. This includes cabinet ministers, ordinary MPs and public servants.
    5) Harper uses public money for advertisements that are thinly disguised propaganda messages, patting his government on the back

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.


    You don't do irony do you?

    1) Those of us living in Ontario affectionately know the Liberals as Lieberals. This is mainly because of all the lies they tell.
    2) I rest my case
    3) Was not attempting any justification, merely trying to present a little balance to a very one sided tirade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    So -our hitherto 'saintly' neighbor to the north ironically may lose that aura to the excesses of Right Wing Zealotry!! It now seems dangerously willing to abdicate its previous moderate stance in order to help facilitate joining the appalling global-trend towards transferring all wealth into the hands of just a greed-mongering few. How sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    @I am not as think as you drunk I am
    1) Its Liberal not Lieberal
    2) The problems occurred under Jen Chretien not Paul Martin (not that Martin was a saint)
    3) The use of "We're no worse than the previous government" justification as used by Tory sympathizers is getting a little tired.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    There's Probably No AGW.
    So Stop Worrying And Enjoy Your Life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Sadly, muzzling scientists isn't a new idea ( http://www.cjfe.org/category/cjfe-gala/award-winners/integrity-award ) but the 'systematic efforts' to do so might be unique other than in totalitarian states. Perhaps Harper is worried that, if he doesn't muzzle them, he will have to sack them all for not toeing the corporate line - and that would look really bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    canadian censorship on scientific research possible pertaining to the environment is just the tip of the iceberg.
    Unfortunatly often the vital information is in plain view but no one seems to want to use it.
    What on earth is wrong with our scientists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    For a moment I thought Canada had denied it all, but then they end with this.

    "The aim of the protocol, according to a leaked internal document, is to ensure that all messages from scientists are along "approved lines". "

    How is that not censorship?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @Deeman, Canada used to be that, and a lot of Canadians still care, but definitely not this immoral, greedy government in cahoots with big oil, big pharma, big banks and to hell with ordinary citizens.
    1984 came true with Harper and his cronies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    @LordBanners.....I take it that you are not a fan of the Conservative leader and Prime Minister, but whilst you're talking about $billons do remember just how corrupt the previous Lieberal government was under the tycoon Paul Martin. There's a good chap!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Harper took power with 39% & $12 Bil Surplus.In 6 months Canada was in Deficit.Last Auditor General rep state $40 Billion missing.Canada was only Country to campaign against Indigenous Rights & withdrew from Desertification.Country is now polarised between Connected & Non-Preferred with Supremist shades of Apartheid.Police & Courts show Crime in decline,yet Harper is building Mega Prisons. Scary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Its good for farmed salmon to swim in oil sands. brings out that natural taste and flavor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    "Some scientists alleged that the muzzling could help suppress environmental concerns about government policies"

    Politicians (liars) muzzling environmental scientists (global warming fantasists) !!!

    Two negatives DO make a positive !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Canada is almost Dictatorship.Current Govt is 1st ever Contempt of Parliament,Corruption,Electoral Fraud,with Billions unaccounted for.Budgets are whimsical with No Details.Lowest Corp Taxes & one of Highest Personal Taxes on Earth.Lobbying is now a $Multi-Billion Industry.All Govt Over-Sight replaced with Harper appointees,incl RCMP.Few with Integrity re-re-placed.Being Connected is paramount.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    To us Canadians it's no secret Steve Harper is a bit of a pathological control freak... be it gagging scientists, contempt for parliament, or reigning as Tsar of his own political party.

    His right-wing christian ideology make him regard climate change as unproven "liberal" lies. He sees natural resources to be exploited with no thought to the long-term environmental consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.


    These are devils in suits, worse than the USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    You be the judge,Harper's Conservatives eliminated Environmental & Safety Stds to encourage Fgn ownership of Tar-Sands.PrimeMinister's office is staffed with scores of whiz kids who tell MPs & back-benchers what to say.PMs staff follow Scientists around at conferences to monitor what they say.Having placed all Cdn eggs in Tar-Sands basket,Harper denies Climate Change & Global Warming.


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