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.

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Comments on “After Nine Years Of Censorship, Canada Finally Unmuzzles Its Scientists”

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A Liberal says:

Re: We Are Finally Dismantling the Previous Gov'ts Rights Violations

The previous government came to power not so much as a party popular for its own views but because of descent against the corrupt liberal party at the time. Majority didn’t like their actual policies, but at least they were not corrupt. Whence they came to power, they started to act like the bigots they were.

Good ridden, Justin has rebuilt the image of the liberal party, cleaned up the corrupt act and good for Canada that he did.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: We Are Finally Dismantling the Previous Gov'ts Rights Violations

Unfortunately that seems to be the way things work here, the govt is elected in more because people are pissed at the old one than because they think the new one is good.

Also unfortunately, corruption is among the many things people complain about the Harper govt as well. They were just corrupt more the purpose of control and power rather than for money.

DannyB (profile) says:


Do you realize what could happen if scientists are allowed to openly state reason, facts, data and interpretations of data for just anyone to hear? Especially if those facts and data are inconvenient and undermine some vast profit making enterprises?

How about a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” science policy?

Public statements on science can be announced by the government after consulting the bones or alternately chicken entrails if bones are not available.

BostonPilot (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree, if the people in the best position to call out inconvenient truths can be muzzled, it’s a great way to control the voters.

It should be a human right for scientists to make these statements whether that aligns with the current government’s position or not, whether the scientist is funded by the government or not.

We truly are living in bizzaro land.

Anonymous Coward says:

Scientists are no better than terrorists. All they want to do is impose their will on the rest of us, believing that their ‘facts’ and ‘data’ and ‘analyses’ have more validity than what the rest of us know to be true. Go ahead, show me even ONE case of science proving ‘common sense gut feelings’ to be wrong. Nothing but a nerd-endorsed, lab-coat-wearin’ sharia law.

Science says that rubbing myrrh on a duck won’t make it go faster. Guess what? I’ve never seen it tried, but it sounds like it would, so there you go. Suck it, science.

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