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 scope… 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 192.

    There’s confusion - what scientists are. They use testable methods to try to get best answer from 'all' available data. They are not of a religion, race or political party, science is practiced by all spectrums of these. Some have ‘liberal’ morals, some were/are fascists. But it is a way of looking at the world, which brought us out of the Dark Ages. Muzzle and we’re burning witches....

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    The Commission acts independent of the govt so it can actually investigate the situation. The situation has been building for a few years and there have also been attempts to muzzle scientists from other countries who work on joint initiatives with Canada. The current govt is not one that appears to care about anything other then a skewed agenda...

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    There are no climate-deniers, they do not exist. Despite the vast evidence that there ARE many Luddite climate-deniers out there with their heads in the sand, I refuse to believe they exist because I simply DON'T WANT TO.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Isn't Canada's Information Commission part of the same Government and subject to the same "constraints", then ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Canada is not the only place that muzzles scientists. Just try the UK, and the USA for scale. Our own right even to freedom of speech is strongly muzzled by government religious hierarchies to such an extent many intelligent and knowledgeable individuals are isolated in society incase they say too much to upset believers in mythologies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Can we have a similar expose by the BBC on why the British gov thinks hiding info on the new curriculum is OK, or do the BBC only criticise 'certain' governments?

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    #3: Port Metro Vancouver has been able to get away with this expansion because the Canadian government has ignored or muzzled all environmental reports. I'm very thankful to the BBC for telling the truth when we do, but are not heard in our own country.
    Here is an excellent article by Daniel Wood: http://www.straight.com/news/343311/delta-expansion-projects-threaten-farms-and-wildlife

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    After reading this article, I see it is a Canadian disease.
    We urgently need international help to hold our govt to account. Here is more info: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2Ilv7fO1W4;hd=1 and here: http://www.straight.com/news/355426/anne-murray-dark-cloud-hangs-over-south-delta Please read Anne Murray's excellent article & watch the video. Your inspiration is most welcome! We need you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Here in South Delta, BC, environmental groups and 100'sof citizens have been fighting the fed and prov gov'ts for years over the DeltaPort expansion megaproject here on the Fraser River estuary.. It threatens not only precious and vanishing farmland, but the salmon, Orcas and the 5 million birds of the Pacific Flyway. We have been feeling that we are the people for whom democracy has vanished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    It explains how Canada can be a world leader in energy intensive shale oil extraction with huge areas of polluted waste ponds and yet be portrayed as a clean and natural county. Always thought it was too good to be true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    177.Drunken Hobo
    171 Mark_from_Manchester - Being unbiased & fair is fine, but do you really want everything on the BBC to have an opposing argument? Perhaps the Sky at Night should invite flat-Earthers
    Is that Condescending or sarcasm ?
    You didn't mention Venus in this one ... :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Is this environmental only, or across all science? Perhaps the Canadian government are becoming protectionist about their pure science IP and dont want to share with the rest of the world? We didnt do a great job with Graphene, for example. If its just environmental, then it is state suppression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    175.Mark Williams
    Now this is a typical attack to anyone who merely questions presumably your beliefs. I'm not calling YOU ignorant ! The BBC 28 is a fact which they tried via 4 FOI court cases at licence payers expense to MUZZLE disclosure of the names of the so called experts on climate matters.Eventually declaring themselves a private company which the judge unheld Go fig that one

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    It is difficult to follow the news from around the world, with coverage of people fighting for their freedom and the chance for representation and realize that in many Western countries, the elected representatives are more interested in centralizing their power rather than serving the citizens. Let me reassure you, Harper does not represent our true Canadian values. Wait until the next election!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I live in Canada, and Mr Harper, our Prime minister has a habit of muzzling everyone he can, has done this since he came to power. Elected members are not allowed to represent their constituents because of this policy. He acts a bit like a democratic dictator, no one can do anything about it until the next elections. His way or your out, keeps the scandals at a minimum, but the truth will come out

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    171 Mark_from_Manchester - Being unbiased & fair is fine, but do you really want everything on the BBC to have an opposing argument? Perhaps the Sky at Night should invite flat-Earthers onto their show and explain how it's all a lie. In any programme about dinosaurs, have people riding them in order to balance it out for creationists.
    It's just daft to expect every counterargument to be given time

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    With the election of the 'Harper gov't', the PM and the Cons set out to change Canada. In the UK you may not be aware but, there has been an ongoing investigation into the role of Harper's party in voter fraud during the last election. Proroguing Parliament, the use of omnibus bills to conceal important revisions, dissolution of environmental agencies, such as the NRTEE, are consistent behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    By all means revel in your own ignorance, Black Pearl, but don't presume that it's OK to label science journalists left-wing because of what they know about climate change. Government suppresses science because it doesn't want you to know the full extent of the problems we face. If you knew, you'd demand action, and governments can't afford what it takes to put this right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.


    I am not saying the GMPF is right - just asking where is the BBC coverage of their article? If the BBC is unbiased and fair then why no coverage of any balancing arguments?
    The agenda of the 'BBC 28' put pay to any balanced coverage.
    It is well known the BBC has attracted the 'focused' left & greens to their ranks. Read Peter Sissons book.


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