Canadian Scientist Muzzled For Writing And Performing Song About Canadian Government Muzzling Scientists

from the Harperman-meets-Streisand-Effect dept

Techdirt has been following for a while the Canadian government's unabashed attempts to muzzle scientists and librarians who work for the state, as it tries to deny them the right to express their views if those happen to disagree with the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's political agenda. That battle over freedom of speech is not only continuing, but escalating according to this story in The Globe and Mail:

An Environment Canada scientist is under investigation for allegedly breaching the public service code of ethics by writing and performing a political song that criticizes the Harper government.

Tony Turner, a physical scientist who most recently was working on a study of migratory birds, has been put on administrative leave with pay over allegations that his participation in his song Harperman puts him in a conflict of interest, the union representing him said.

Turner's song, with its opening lines "Who controls our parliament? Harperman, Harperman. Who squashes all dissent? Harperman, Harperman," and a refrain of "It's time for you to go," is pretty mild stuff. A former head of the Ontario Public Service defended the government's actions as follows:

The public sector's ethics code states that federal public servants are expected to "[carry] out their duties in accordance with legislation, policies and directives in a non-partisan and impartial manner." Mr. Dean said the non-partisan nature of the public service offers protection that goes both ways: It prevents government officials from pressing public servants to act in partisan interests, and public servants make a commitment to do their jobs regardless of the political stand of the government of the day.
For one thing, it's not the case that the ethics code "prevents government officials from pressing public servants to act in partisan interests". As a BBC story on the muzzling of Canadian scientists reported:
The [media] protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories.

Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview.
That's not allowing scientists to speak in a "non-partisan and impartial manner": the "media protocol" is clearly designed to cow government scientists and to ensure that they toe the official line in everything they say, regardless of what the science may indicate.

But the other point is that Turner was not performing his Harperman song as a government employee, but as a citizen -- he is described on the YouTube page as an "Ottawa folksinger", and there is no reference anywhere to his work as a government scientist.

Of course, the great thing about the Canadian government's absurd overreaction to this gentlest of private protests is that many more people will now learn that Turner is an environmental scientist who is being muzzled by a bunch of desperate control freaks who are frightened that the Canadian people might be told the truth about important scientific issues. Thank goodness for the Streisand Effect….

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2015 @ 10:32am


    Because he's a conservative leader during economic troubles, and because he's only held a majority once (and has never had a >50% popular vote, despite what he says about Canada wanting him in power).

    First time he had majority mandate, and he's tanked his party's support.

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