Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Groups call for investigation of 'muzzling' of federal scientists

Democracy Watch and the Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Victoria have called on the federal information commissioner to investigate the silencing of scientists working for the federal government.

In an extensive news release issued today, Democracy Watch wrote:

Today, Democracy Watch, in partnership with the Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Victoria, filed a complaint with the federal Information Commissioner and called for a full investigation following the release of a report on the lack of freedom of federal government scientists to speak with the public and journalists.

The complaint is being filed as a new federal government policy that attempts to muzzle other scientists who do research with federal government scientists recently came to light.

As the report details, in contrast to President Obama who issued a policy that says government scientists can speak freely about the results of their research, the federal Conservatives have muzzled government scientists in the same way former U.S. President George W. Bush did.

"In sharp contrast to past Canadian practice and current U.S. Government practice, the federal government has recently made efforts to prevent the media and the general public from speaking to government scientists," said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Open Government Coalition. "This is research that taxpayers have paid for and without it society cannot make informed choices about critical issues."

"Canadians cannot make smart choices about critical issues such as climate change, oil sands development, and environmental protection if the public does not have full, timely access to the Government’s best scientific knowledge on those issues. This is why we’ve filed this complaint and why we are asking for a full investigation into whether federal government policy forcing scientists to jump through hoops before speaking with the media violates access to information law." said Professor Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director of the UVic Environmental Law Clinic.

The report produced by Democracy Watch in partnership with the Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Victoria involved access to information requests, conversations with non-profit and charitable organization representatives, and interviews with current and former public servants. It highlights access to information policy changes and their consequences at Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada, the National Research Council, and other federal government departments.

The report details several situations where changes to information policies prevented scientists from commenting on research or responding to questions from the media, and documents illustrative cases, such as one where public servants discussed the "tone" they believed the article would take prior to deciding whether to allow scientists to speak with journalists. It also showcases the general trend toward limiting information in Canada compared to the increase in freedom and openness in the United States.

The release includes a summary of the report as well as a link to the report itself.

The Harper government's science-information policy has also been criticized in Nature, a prestigious British scientific journal. The Tyee has dealt with the "muzzling" issue, notably in the case of DFO scientist Dr. Kristi Miller and in the case of Environment Canada scientists. It has also covered a similar case on the local and provincial level.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus