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October 22, 2015

Harper crimes against Canadians

The Canadian Charger

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After being barred from speaking to media about his research, rarely being allowed to travel, and finding it increasingly difficulty to get funding, Canadian federal scientist Dr. Steve Campana left the Department of Fisheries and Oceans - after more than 30 years - disgusted with what he describes as a toxic atmosphere working with the federal government.

Campana was heading up the shark research lab in Canada and he now does what he characterizes as pretty much the same research for the government of Iceland.

Speaking on a recent edition of the TV Ontario program The Agenda, with Steve Paikin, Dr. Campana said scientists were giving very specific instructions that they were not to communicate to the media without prior approval; and very often when they asked for that approval they didn't get it.

He said disciplinary action was taken against him for speaking to the media, as he had always done in the past, even though the topic had no relation to Canadian scientific research.

“I personally have been disciplined several times for speaking to the media without approval, despite the fact that I had quite a track record of already speaking to them in the past about shark issues and other things.

For example, there was an incident where a great white shark was filmed following a kayaker down in the United States. It never attacked him; it was just a very striking video. I went on TV to talk about this incident in America. It had no implications for Canada. After this interview aired I was hauled into my senior manager's office and I was disciplined for speaking without approval.”

Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy, told Mr. Paikin that unfortunately it's the same kind of stories her organization has been hearing from government scientists across the board: not being about to communicate their research with the public. 

But she said there are other frustrations, such as not being able to attend conferences, which affects the quality of the scientists' work.

“Budgets to attend conferences have been cut, but I've also heard examples of scientists who were willing to take vacation days and pay their own money to attend conferences and the request was still denied. Going to conferences is really essential as a researcher: that's where you hear about cutting edge research. In addition, a more administrative burden has been put on scientists as well.”

Ms. Gibbs said that in 2007 the Harper government made it explicit that scientists could no longer access or talk to journalists like they used to.

From then on they had to go through the communications department and get approval. After having their interview requests denied, Ms. Gibbs said some journalists filed Access to Information Requests, with resulted in a lengthy and, needless to say, expensive decision-making processes.

“We've literally seen 500 pages of emails being returned of different bureaucrats and different levels of government discussing whether or not the scientists could do this interview.”

Moreover, even if journalists’ requests for interviews were granted, they still couldn't get direct access to government scientists. Ms. Gibbs said instead of being approved for a phone interview; for example, the journalist has to submit written questions.

“The questions have to get approved, then they go to the scientist. The scientist writes responses then the responses have to go back to the communications department and get approved and then the responses will be passed on to the journalists. Obviously that's not going to be the same as having the journalist talk directly to the scientist on the phone.”

Not only is this process an additional burden on the Canadian taxpayer, it's taxpayers' money being used for this research - as Dr. Campana pointed out - so they have a right to access the results.

“When I was working for Fisheries and Oceans, I was doing a lot of research that was funded by the Canadian taxpayer. That research, therefore, ethically belongs to the people of Canada. When it comes out it's information that was paid for by the public and we're being stopped from sharing that information. When the prohibitions extend to raw facts, scientific observations, and scientific papers that are already published, you really have to wonder what is going on.”

Dr. Campana said a number of scientists in Canada are working up in the Arctic on the potential for seabed resources there. He said these are big well-funded programs where they're collaborating with scientists from other countries around the Arctic; and they've been prohibited from speaking to their collaborators, so that's affecting their work.

Ms. Gibbs said the foundation of a democracy is having an informed public that knows what's going on and can make informed decisions and she can't see how they can do that unless they have this valuable information from our scientists.

Mr. Paikin said TV Ontario has asked government spokespeople to come on this program many times, but “so far we haven't had any luck.”

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