Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Edmonton Journal Editorial: Unmuzzle our scientists

Edmonton Journal Editorial: Unmuzzle our scientists: "A bid by Ottawa to impose sweeping confidentiality rules on an Arctic science project is the latest in a disturbing trend that suggests federal environmental scientists are being systematically silenced from communicating their findings to the public.
An American participant in the joint Canada-U.S. project last week took strong issue with new confidentiality provisions proposed by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, calling them an affront to academic freedom, a “potential muzzle” and the sort of secrecy precautions better suited for classified military research. Andreas Muenchow, an oceanographer at the University of Delaware who has been collaborating with DFO scientists on the project in the Eastern Arctic since 2003, blew the whistle on the new restrictive rules, vowing not to sign any such contract.
Unfortunately, resistance won’t come as easily for the scientists on the Canadian government payroll, a constituency that must be growing weary of Ottawa’s control-the-message zeal when it comes to their work. Fisheries scientist Jeffrey Hutchings of Dalhousie University predicted the new provisions would have “a chilling effect” on research and could prevent important scientific findings from being made public. “This is a greater exertion of control over the communication of science,” said Hutchings. “There is no other way to interpret it.”"
Glad someone is looking into legality of muzzling federal scientists: Could muzzling federal scientists be illegal? "The Information Commissioner of Canada is being asked to investigate whether "federal government policy forcing scientists to jump through hoops before speaking with the media" breaches the Access to Information Act.
The request was made as part of a complaint filed Wednesday by Democracy Watch, a non-profit organization that advocates for government accountability, and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic.
"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, in a statement.
He noted that the scientists conduct research that is paid for by taxpayers who therefore have a right to learn the results.
Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic, said in a statement that "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.""

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