Canadian scientists, fresh from nine years of being silenced by the Stephen Harper government, are wasting no time getting in touch with U.S. colleagues who now face censorship and defunding in the era of Donald Trump.
“We’re already reaching out to our counterparts in the U.S. and in the international science community,” said Debi Daviau, president of the 15,000-member Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents government scientists, engineers, and researchers.
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In a statement that described Trump’s early announcements as a “chilling reminder” of the Harper years, PIPSC expressed its “solidarity with our colleagues and fellow government scientists in the United States…by once again declaring science should never be silenced, and by expressing our hope that the current restrictions on U.S. government scientists will soon be lifted.”
It’s only been about 14½ months since Canada saw similar restrictions removed.
Katie Gibbs, executive director of Ottawa-based Evidence for Democracy, told The Guardian she’s already been in touch with organizers of the Scientists’ March on Washington, and pointed to the Canadian experience as a factor in the fast U.S. response. “They saw what happened under Harper, they’ve seen where it leads, and so they’re not taking a wait-and-see approach, they’re acting now,” she said.
Gibbs, whose organization organized lab-coated scientists to hold a “death of scientific evidence” funeral procession in 2013, said Trump’s restrictions over the last week are shocking, yet familiar. “It absolutely echoes what we saw under George Bush in the States and what we saw under Harper, except it’s so much swifter and more brazen,” she said. “But at the same time there’s been a huge resistance coming out of the scientific community, and that’s been really heartening.”
Molecular geneticist and sockeye salmon specialist Kristi Miller-Saunders, one of the first Canadian scientists banned from speaking to media in 2009, said the experience under Harper pointed to the connection between the treatment of scientists and the credibility of their work.
“If the government can suppress information coming out of a program,” she said, “that information is not in the public eye anymore.” And “when the information is not in the public eye, the public thinks they’re really not doing much in that area, there really haven’t been any inroads made. And it’s much easier for the government to then quietly cut the program.”