SEJ Voices Concern Over Muzzling of Environment Canada Scientists

February 27, 2008

The Society of Environmental Journalists has asked Environment Canada for its written policies on staff communication with news media - following reports that the agency was muzzling scientists to make sure they toed the Conservative government's political line.

"We recently learned of an Environment Canada policy change limiting its scientists' liberty to answer media questions directly. We would like to know the details about the substance of that change because we are very concerned that it may hinder journalists' efforts to adequately cover environmental issues and the ministry," SEJ president Tim Wheeler wrote in a Feb. 14, 2008, letter to Environment Minister John Baird.

"Given that some 60 percent of the ministry's workforce and 80 percent of its budget are devoted to science and technology, we consider restricting scientists' freedom to communicate with us a major threat to performing our job of distributing information and analysis in a timely manner to decision makers and the rest of the public," SEJ's letter said.

The story of the agency's restrictions on scientists talking to media was broken by CanWest's Margaret Munro Feb. 1, 2008.