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Harper's Humiliating Muzzle on Scientists

Canada is becoming a global joke as our world-class experts are prohibited from speaking.

Mitchell Anderson 25 Mar 2010TheTyee.ca

Vancouver-based Mitchell Anderson is a widely published environmental journalist and occasional contributor to The Tyee. This piece first appeared on DeSmogBlog.

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Canada's scientists: bound to silence.

The scandal is growing at Environment Canada of how Canadian climate researchers are being "muzzled" by draconian policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This week the Montreal Gazette reported on a leaked document showing that the information restrictions brought in by the Harper government have severely restricted the media's access to government researchers.

"Scientists have noticed a major reduction in the number of requests, particularly from high-profile media, who often have same-day deadlines," said the Environment Canada document. "Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent."

Since 2007, Environment Canada has required senior federal scientists to seek permission from the government prior to giving interviews, often requiring them to get approval from supervisors of written responses to the questions submitted by journalists before any interview.

"Many [federal climate change] scientists are recognized experts in their field, have received media training, and have successfully carried out media interviews for many years," said the document, leaked by an Environment Canada employee who asked not to be named.

"Our scientists are very frustrated with the new process. They feel the intent of the policy is to prevent them from speaking to media... There is a widespread perception among Canadian media that our scientists have been 'muzzled' by the media relations policy."

Control at its worst: scientist

The leaked document came to light through research done by the Climate Action Network for a scathing report on the laundry list of restrictions on climate researchers since the Harper regime came to power.

According to Dr. David Schindler at the University of Alberta: "It is clear that muzzling under the Harper government is the most oppressive in the history of federal government science. Incredibly, some of the most eminent scientists in Canada have been forbidden to speak publicly on scientific matters where they are recognized as world experts."

'Our community is gutted'

Not apparently content restricting the flow of existing climate information, the Harper government also cancelled funding for a decade-long climate research project that was recognized around the world for its importance.

The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science (CFCAS) has supported 198 climate research projects around the country, providing $117 million in funding that has led to breakthroughs in climatology, meteorology and oceanography.

Dr. Gordon McBean, Chair of CFCAS called the recent budget announcement a "nightmare scenario for scientists across the country -- our community is gutted."

A press release by the CFCAS said:

In less than 12 months, major research collaborations among industry, government laboratories and universities will collapse -- and with them the jobs of numerous scientists, students and technicians. The country is already bleeding talent... Without sound scientific information, how will the government evaluate the effectiveness of green technologies, or build northern infrastructure, or develop our energy industry, or assure water supply and clean air?

Presumably that's the point. The Harper government seems to be seeking to strangle research, silence scientists and muzzle the media.

So ham-handed are these efforts to stifle the truth that this story has now spilled across our borders into the international press. A story this week from The Guardian shows how the world is beginning to notice the bizarre censorship policies now pervasive in once-bucolic Canada.  [Tyee]

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