Scientists push back against government suppression

Peter Jackson
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It’s not too often you get a photo of a mutant fish in the mail.

In March of last year, that’s exactly what showed up at the offices of federal Environment Minister Peter Kent and Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield: a photo of a freakish,

goggle-eyed walleye (Sander vitreus).

It accompanied a letter by University of Alberta ecologist David Schindler, who pleaded with the ministers to re-open the Experimental Lakes Area in Northern Ontario. The research facility was shuttered after losing federal funding; the government said it was looking for a third party to take it over.

Schindler cited numerous studies that raised alarms about the effects of oil and chemical contamination on fish. Defects found in fish from the Athabaska River, downstream of Alberta’s tar sands, were found to be identical to those found after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and the more recent Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Schindler represents only one voice among many across the country rising up over the past year against the muzzling and defunding of government science.

Around the same time as the ELA funding was cut, Kent also announced an end to funding for the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. That body shut down in March of this year.

Days before its closure, Kent vetoed a plan by its acting chairman to post 25 years’ worth of research and analysis on a website run by the think-tank Sustainable Prosperity.

In what has become a common motif of duplicity in Ottawa, a spokesman for Kent vehemently denied the charge, but then suggested the work would be posted on the Library and Archives Canada website.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird admitted last year the Conservatives simply didn’t like the advice it was getting from the roundtable. Its closure saved them a paltry $5.5-million a year.

This undeniable shift towards the suppression of science was

documented in a lengthy report released this February by Democracy Watch, a non-profit organization that lobbies for government accountability. That report, replete with policy statements, email threads and other evidence, has spurred the country’s information commissioner to launch an investigation.

Among other things, the report reveals formal policy initiatives aimed at micro-managing hot-

button research from the highest levels. When asked for clarity on its policies, for example, Environment Canada provided a written response.

“Environment Canada stated that for media inquiries on certain subject matters, such as policy questions ‘… related to climate change, wildlife, water quality and supply’ or on the government’s processes ‘… to protect species such as the polar bear and caribou,’ as well as ‘any calls from Press Gallery affiliated reporters (and) major news outlets,’ Media Relations will ‘… send the request to the Privy Council Office for approval.’”

Ironically, Canada is late to the game of scientific revisionism. Under George W. Bush’s administration, scientists in the U.S. experienced similar government suppression and manipulation of data.

In one high-profile case, it was revealed a White House appointee to the Climate Change Science Program had busily edited scientific reports to infuse a greater sense of uncertainly about their findings. When President Barack Obama first took office in 2008, he quickly took measures to restore the independence of scientific study.

Stephen Harper may have helped create a juggernaut out of the Prime Minister’s Office, but his fate is still in the hands of Canadian voters. And an Ipsos Reid poll last week revealed half the country still feels he has some sort of secret agenda.

Dalhousie ecology professor

Jeffrey Hutchings put it best last month in a submission to the Toronto Star:

“The Canadian government’s current communication controls are clearly not the hallmark of a confident, mature and progressive society. We can and should do much, much better.”

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. Email:

Organizations: University of Alberta, Exxon Valdez, National Roundtable Library and Archives Canada website.Foreign Affairs Minister Conservatives Environment Canada Press Gallery Privy Council Office Ipsos Reid Toronto Star

Geographic location: ELA, Northern Ontario, Athabaska River Alberta Alaska Ottawa Canada U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Charles
    April 29, 2013 - 19:23

    I think it time WILD ROSE took off his rose colored glasses.It seems you have watch too much FOX News.Sounds like Rush Limbaugh might be your hero. OR maybe Bill O or Shawn H.Surely your not following Glen Beck.All these find folks loved the 1%. Clearly Harper is a clone of the Republicans.

  • Herb Morrison
    April 11, 2013 - 07:02

    Perhaps if more Canadians would exercise their Democraric right to vote, come next Federal election, situations such as this could be avoided. Yet another in a growing list of examples which demonstrate the price to be paid for voter apathy.

  • Ed Power
    April 11, 2013 - 04:05

    Our poor Wild Rose is in desperate need of some insecticide, it's gone all buggy......

  • Tony Rockel
    April 10, 2013 - 11:49

    Gee, Wild Rose, what an intelligent response to our planet's problems! You could easily be our next Conservative prime minister. I guess it was some of those lazy hippie scientists who invented the computer you are now using (apparently without the help of SpellCheck). Maybe you'll be raptured up to heaven along with Harper now that the End Times are upon us.

  • paulSt.John's
    April 10, 2013 - 07:50

    The Harper regime is attempting to disempower advocates and progressives in our society and the best way to do that is to restrict information. That's the thinking behind the elimination of the long-form census and it's the same motive here. If you give people less information, you increase their ignorance and ignorant people are much easier to exploit. Harper's job is to deliver Canada, her resources and her population into the hands of the new corporate rulers of the planet. Harper serves the 1%. The rest of us are fodder.

    • Wild Rose
      April 10, 2013 - 08:10

      No The Harper regime is doing what it was elected to do save taxpayers maney and create jobs. Those scientists like David Suzuky and Gore and the enviromental crowd are mad at companies trying to create jobs. Scitents are over paid and envromentalists are just a bunch of hippies afraid of doing a days work and living off the taxpayer. We should thank the so called 1% because they create the jobs that the leftists are afraid of. And we shouold be glad the the government is finally challenging the scientists who are giving mis information about global warming.