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Federal scientists' union protests 'muzzling' of salmon researcher

The union representing federal scientists has protested the "muzzling" of a respected salmon researcher by the Privy Council Office.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada issued a news release today saying that Dr. Kristi Miller should be free to explain her findings to the media.

Ms. Kristi Miller was forbidden from discussing her recent salmon-genetics research with the media. As an employee of the federal government, Ms. Miller’s research is funded by Canadian taxpayers and has direct impact on the west coast fishing industry and is relevant to changes in the salmon stocks in the Fraser River in British Columbia. Denying media access to this information under the guise of the Cohen Commission is simply a convenient excuse.

"Government control of information must end and the undermining of Canada's public scientists must stop. Whatever happened to the Harper government’s commitment to transparency?" says Gary Corbett, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

"This government, by suppressing access to this information, is depriving the Canadian and international scientific communities of significant discoveries. Canadians have a right to the results of research supported by Canadian tax dollars. The findings and benefits of scientific and medical research should be available to all Canadians to enable engaged public policy awareness, debate and development. Canadian scientists must be allowed to publish their research in world renowned journals so that society can advance through their findings and the peer review process."

The PIPSC said Dr. Miller was not the only expert being silenced:

In the past year, media have reported that key federal science based departments and agencies including Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada, have implemented new communications policies that have resulted in an incapacity to communicate sound independent scientific information in a timely fashion.

Canadians consistently rely on accurate scientific information to make informed decisions about everyday life, such as the products they buy, the food they eat, the medicines they administer, even their travel plans.

In an article published in The Tyee on June 30, Dr. Miller is quoted as saying:

"Unfortunately, I am not given permission to speak with anyone affiliated with the media until after I testify at the Cohen Commission.

"Please be aware, however, that past research on salmon leukemia, often termed plasmacytoid leukemia or marine anemia, had not actually identified a specific viral agent associated with this 'syndrome' (not considered a disease until a disease agent is discovered), hence it is very difficult to determine if the as yet unidentified virus associated with salmon leukemia [is] the same as that purported to associate with our genomic signature, but we are working on this. We have made some inroads, but I am sorry I cannot discuss these at the present time."

Dr. Miller will presumably testify at the Cohen Commission sometime between August 22 and 24, when salmon diseases will be the subject of testimony.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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