Groups call on information commissioner to investigate 'muzzling' of scientists

Canada's Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault

Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie


OTTAWA — Two advocacy groups are urging the Information Commissioner of Canada to make some noise about what it calls the government's "muzzling" of federal scientists.

Democracy Watch and the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria have jointly asked Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault to launch an investigation into the "federal government's policies and actions to obstruct the right of the public and the media to speak to government scientists."

Attached to the letter was a 128-page document detailing the nature of the complaint.

"In sharp contrast to past Canadian practice, the federal government has made concerted efforts to prevent the media - and through them, the general public - from speaking to government scientists," the report said. "This impoverished the public debate on issues of national concern."

A spokeswoman for the information commissioner said they had received the letter.

"We are now looking into it and assessing whether it has value," Josee Villeneuve said. "The timeline varies depending on the complexity."

Villeneuve said Legault would likely decide within weeks whether an investigation would be launched.
Union boss Gary Corbett said Canada's scientists are disenfranchised and that its credibility internationally is being hurt by government attempts to control the message.

Even if the information commissioner launches an investigation, Corbett isn't convinced it would change anything.

"Just look at who she reports to," he said.

Legault reports to Parliament.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May says the problem goes far beyond the muzzling of scientists.

"It's not just scientists," she said. "Academics, other governments, the message to those people is if you're doing business with Canada, you can't talk."

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