I would like to respond to MP Tony Clement’s letter last week (Government scientists and experts readily available to share their research), in which he states that I made “numerous assertions” and did not provide “some important facts to your readers” in my March 6 column (Muzzling of federal scientists bad news for all Canadians).
I am not the first or only one to assert that federal government scientists are being muzzled in Canada. Many of the points I made in my article were based on a recent report by Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre. (http://democracywatch.ca/20130220-complaint-filed-over-muzzling-scientists). Current and former federal civil servants, journalists, members of non-profit organizations, and professors at Canadian universities were consulted for the report, which examined new media relations policies in several government departments (such as Environment Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada). Internal government documents released under the Access to Information Act were also consulted for the report. As a result of the report’s findings, Democracy Watch and University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre have filed a complaint with the Federal Information Commissioner calling for a full investigation into access to information policy changes.
Others have spoken out against the muzzling as well. For example, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (which represents 23,000 federal scientists and researchers) issued a news release in 2011 criticizing the muzzling of federal scientists. In February 2012, six media organizations (including the Canadian Science Writers’ Association and the World Federation of Science Journalists) issued an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing concern that scientists were not allowed to speak freely. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (the world’s largest scientific society) ran a panel session on muzzling of Canadian government scientists at its 2012 annual conference in Vancouver.
There has been ongoing coverage of this issue by major news outlets over the last few years both nationally (including the CBC, Globe and Mail, and The Star) and internationally (including the BBC, the Guardian, and the Economist).
I believe the muzzling is well-documented, and urge concerned readers to take a look at the Democracy Watch/University of Victoria report for further details.