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In Depth

Society
| 10/01/15

Fresh allegations of Ottawa muzzling scientists

TCE

Allegations that the federal Conservative government is muzzling scientists, particularly those engaged in research into the environment and climate change, hit the headlines again this week, as some 100 former Parks Canada employees signed an open letter denouncing the firing in June of a senior scientist, John Wilmshurst, from Jasper National Park in Alberta.

“The reason for Dr. Wilmshurst’s firing is unknown but it appears consistent with the purging of science-based management taking place in the national parks of Canada,” the letter stated. “Like a spectre, the threat of these seemingly arbitrary firings has haunted not just the corridors of Parks Canada but also those of other federal departments.”

“As those who dare to speak up on issues related to the ecological integrity of the national parks or the commemorative integrity of the national historic sites are removed from their positions, a deep fear is instilled to ensure that those remaining toe the party line.”

Media commentators speculating on the dismissal noted that Wilmshurst’s dismissal comes a year after publicly linking climate change to glacier loss within Jasper National Park.

Ottawa has been accused for years of gagging federal scientists—in particular restricting their ability to speak to the press and the public—and cutting funding for research into climate change, water quality, food inspection and other environmental and public health topics. In the middle of the federal election, scientists and the unions that represent public sector researchers are trying to make the issue a key election concern.

In April 2013, the national information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, agreed to investigate complaints of muzzling and consider whether restrictions imposed on researchers amounted to violations of Canada’s Access to Information legislation, following a complaint from Democracy Watch, a national pressure group advocating democratic reform.

More than two years later, however, the commissioner has yet to release her findings or say when she is likely to reach any conclusions. The National Observer, a website dedicated to environmental news, this week spoke to the commissioner’s office asking whether her report was likely to be released ahead of the federal election on 19 October. Her office responded by saying that due to “strict confidentiality provisions”, the commissioner could not discuss the case or any possible completion date.

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