Reporters, Researchers at AAAS Say Canada Muzzles Climate Scientists

February 22, 2012

"Orwellian" is the term one Canadian environmental scientist used to describe the conservative Harper government's policy of requiring scientists to get political officials' approval for interviews with the press — and submit to Saddam-style "minders" sitting in on the interviews.

The complaints came out at the Vancouver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)  this month — the main multidisciplinary science conference held yearly on the continent.

"I suspect the federal government would prefer that its scientists don't discuss research that points out just how serious the climate change challenge is," Prof Thomas Pedersen of University of Victoria told BBC News. Canada this year withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a February 17, 2012, panel at the AAAS meeting, both scientists and journalists criticized the written Canadian policy. It is similar to ones in effect at some US science agencies. SEJ has opposed such policies as a denial of the public's right to know and an obstruction to journalists doing their jobs.

"It's pretty clear that for federal scientists, Ottawa decides now if the researchers can talk, what they can talk about and when they can say it," said journalist Margaret Munro, who works for Postmedia News. "We're not talking about state secrets here."

During the AAAS meeting, a letter from six journalism and science groups calling on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the muzzling-scientists policy was released. The groups were the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, World Federation of Science Journalists, Canadian Science Writers Association, Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec, Association science et bien commun, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.