After Nine Years Of Censorship, Canada Finally Unmuzzles Its Scientists
from the justin-trudeau-strikes-again dept
Here’s something we don’t see enough of here on Techdirt: a long and dispiriting saga with a happy ending. Over the years, we’ve reported on how Canada’s previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, tried to stifle dissenting voices among government scientists and librarians, all of whom were expected to self-censor, even outside their work. But as most people know by now, the new Canadian administration under Justin Trudeau has a rather different style, and fortunately that also applies to how it treats its scientists. As an article in Nature reports, things may be moving too slowly for some, but at least they are moving:
the [Canadian] government is loosening its grip on communications but the shift at some agencies has not been as swift and comprehensive as many had hoped. And with the newfound freedom to speak, the full impact of the former restrictions is finally becoming clear. Canadian scientists and government representatives are opening up about what it was like to work under the former policy and the kind of consequences it had. Some of the officials who imposed the rules are talking about how the restrictions affected the morale and careers of researchers.
As well as filling in the background to this welcome move, Nature explores some of the stories that are starting to emerge, like this one:
During the 1970s, [Ian Stirling, a prominent biologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada] had gone to meetings in Canada that were also attended by Soviet scientists. The visiting researchers would arrive, he says, “with a KGB guy, who would stand there with no smiles, a scowl on his face and arms crossed”. Stirling still finds it unbelievable that the Canadian government used similar tactics at conferences. In 2012, for example, the Canadian news outlet CBC reported that media minders had shadowed scientists from Environment Canada at a meeting of the International Polar Year in Montreal.
It’s important to remember that Canada is not alone in having these muzzling problems. The article notes that during the administration of President George W. Bush, US government scientists complained that inconvenient data was being altered or simply suppressed. More recently, the UK government unveiled plans to forbid its scientists from lobbying for changes in their own field. Although it has now introduced some exemptions from the controversial “gagging clause”, these seem half-hearted and possibly temporary. It obviously needs to pay more attention to Justin.