Environment Canada is muzzling government scientists.
On January 31, the National Post reported the department had ordered scientists to refer all media queries to Ottawa where communications officers will help them respond with “approved lines.”
The new policy worries climate change scientist and Green Party candidate John Streicker.
“It’s very inappropriate to censor science,” said Streicker.
“It’s fine to ask people to follow a communications strategy, but you can cross over the line very quickly.”
It reminded Streicker of a trip to the US one year ago to give a series of lectures on climate change.
“James Hansen, NASA’s senior scientist who works on climate change, had in the past year been censored by the American government,” said Streicker.
“He came out and tried to give some of his results about climate change and was told it was inappropriate.”
“There’s a difference between trying to follow a communications strategy and not allowing the public to be fairly informed about the science,” said Streicker.
“You need to be very careful that what we’re doing is allowing the science to come out in an unbiased way.”
“This policy is just consistent with the practices across government,” said Gregory Jack, acting director of Environment Canada’s ministerial and executive services.
“Every department has one of these as far as I know, so we’re just basically doing what other departments are doing.”
Scientists and subject matter experts are still able to talk to the media, if media relations decides that that’s the best way to handle a query.
“What triggered (the new policy) is a desire on the part of the department to ensure quick, accurate responses that are consistent across the country,” said Jack.
“Which is consistent with what the treasury board has mandated us to do.”
“The policy doesn’t just apply to scientists,” he added.
“It applies to all employees — this is not just about scientists.”
Government scientists haven’t been faring too well lately.
Ottawa announced it would cut the position and office of the national science adviser.
Arthur Carty was appointed to the role when it was created four years ago by then-prime minister Paul Martin.
The Harper government decided the position wasn’t necessary.
“I think it’s very important for government to have the best possible science advice,” said Ian Church, the Yukon government’s senior science advisEr.
Church declined further comment on the dismissal of the national science adviser and Environment Canada’s new strict communications policy.
“What I will say, as the Canadian Chair of the International Polar Year, is that one of the basic requirements of all the science that is done under the banner of the International Polar Year is that the science has to be readily and openly available to the public,” he said.
“And all of those programs also have to have a communications program. So we’re dealing with that issue as well.”
“What you really want is that the science goes off, does its work, comes up with its findings and releases that information out to the public,” said Streicker.
“The politicians then make policy recommendations and the public votes on that, if not through public opinion then at least the next time we go to the polls.”
“It’s got to be one of the fundamental tenEnts of a democracy that the public is fairly informed,” he continued.
“As soon as that stuff becomes political, it loses its ability to be objective.”