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Canada Unmuzzles Federal Scientists

Juliacdrd / Pixabay

Tears of joy greeted the announcements last week that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment and Climate Change Canada had lifted Harper-era restrictions that stopped federal scientists from communicating with the media or the general public.


Juliacdrd [2] / Pixabay

“I think we still need to work out the details. It’s very new,” Alain Vézina, regional director of science for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, told the National Observer Friday. But “what I told the staff is if you’re contacted directly by the media, let’s say you’re at a conference or a workshop, the media is there. You can talk directly. You don’t have to say, ‘I don’t have permission to speak.’”

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“The government has made it clear that it values science and will treat scientists with respect,” wrote Environment Canada spokesperson Natalie Huneault later in the day. “Environment and Climate Change Canada scientists and experts (such as researchers, meteorologists, or climatologists) are available to share their research and speak freely about their work with the media and the public.”

On Friday evening, CBC carried the story [4] of Dr. Kristi Miller, a DFO scientist who was banned from conducting interviews after her research on the sockeye salmon collapse in the Fraser River in 2009 was published in the journal Science. “I was told at the time that the problem with the study was that it was talking about dying salmon, and that wasn’t a positive news story,” she told CBC. Miller later learned the gag order originated in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Over the weekend, communications strategist Jody Paterson sent a thank-you note [5] to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after her son, a federal fisheries biologist in British Columbia, described the reaction when the ban was lifted.

“I feel like I’m in one of those post-apocalyptic movies where there’s nothing but darkness and sorrow and hard times, and then right at the end of the movie there’s a scene of the sun rising over a new world and it’s like everything just might turn out OK,” her son wrote. “People, we must never again let our government plunge us into such a fearful, secretive, divisive state.”

The quote went viral after Paterson posted it on Facebook, and she blogged about it after writing to Trudeau. “What I have come to see through the popularity of that post is just how oppressed, bitter, and sorrowful Canadians had become under the Harper government, and how hungry they were for optimism and hope again,” she wrote.

“Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you, Canadians, for turning out to the polls and voting against a repressive, authoritarian, anti-democratic, fear-mongering, and just plain awful government. So good to remember what hope feels like.”

But the satirical online outlet, The Beaverton, warned that the “last remaining caged public servants” wouldn’t be released until today. The paper had Trudeau announcing that “flogging by the cat o’ nine tails, indefinite imprisonment without a trial, obligatory grovelling in the presence of a cabinet minister, and forced relocation to Canada’s North will end by 2017.”

“I think this is a positive development,” said fictitious Natural Resources Canada analyst Alice Simpson, who The Beaverton said had been caged for more than three years for a policy recommendation contrary to government beliefs. “I was locked in the stocks for six months…I had to stay warm by burning recently published climate change studies. I think that went a bit too far.”