Thu, Apr 04, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Canadian officials to probe scientists’ alleged ‘muzzling’


Canada’s information commissioner on Tuesday launched an investigation into allegations that the federal government is muzzling its scientists, a spokeswoman for the commissioner said.

An academic report from the University of Victoria says the Conservative government has stopped some government researchers from discussing their studies on prehistoric floods, the 2011 Arctic ozone hole, and snow research.

Spokeswoman Josee Villeneuve said Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is investigating a complaint alleging that policies that restrict government scientists from speaking about their work to the media and public violates the Access to Information Act.

The office of Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, said government scientists are readily available to share their research with the media and the public. A statement from the office said Environment Canada participated in more than 1,300 media interviews, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued nearly 1,000 scientific publications, and Natural Resources Canada published nearly 500 studies last year.

The complaint was launched by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and ethics advocacy group Democracy Watch.

Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher said the issue is not the number of documents produced and studies undertaken, but the percentage of documents being released.

Chris Tollefson, the executive director of the University of Victoria’s law center, said their research into suppressed science revealed both the wide scope of the practice and that it “represents a significant departure” in government practice over the last five to seven years.

Tollefson said the health of the country’s democracy is at stake if the public does not know what the best science is to make difficult decisions about policy.

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