Information Commissioner asked to stop muzzling of government scientists

by Dianne Saxe on March 18, 2013

The Environmental Law Centre of the University of Victoria has written to Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, asking her, pursuant to s. 30(1)(f) of the Access to Information Act,to:  investigate the federal government’s policies and actions to obstruct the right of the public and the media to speak to government scientists.

“We request that you initiate an investigation under s. 30(1)(f) of the Access to Information Act into the systematic efforts by the Government of Canada to obstruct the right of the media – and through them, the Canadian public — to timely access to government scientists. We ask you to take this step because of the deeply troubling findings in the attached report, Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy.”

The report primarily focuses on how the federal government has disrupted the media environment through the direct and indirect muzzling of government scientists and other federal civil servants:

“Federal civil servants in Canada, and in particular scientists, are being muzzled by the federal government. Muzzling occurs directly or indirectly; civil servants who are not permitted to speak with the media, or who are not permitted to speak with the media in a time frame that is compatible with the fast-paced media environment, are effectively being muzzled. The federal government is also manipulating the release of government information by selectively permitting or disallowing responses to media inquiries, using communications employees to craft “approved lines” or provide scripted answers to civil servants, and through subtle means of intimidation when allowing civil servants to respond directly to media inquiries, such as requiring all interviews to be recorded or for a communications employee to be present at the time of the interview. Canada was once recognized internationally as a country that encouraged its scientists to speak freely and openly to the public. However, the federal government is taking steps in the wrong direction and has drawn international criticism in recent years. Even more alarming is the fact that the federal government has ignored all such criticism and seems intent on continuing down this path. Access to government information is a vital part of a healthy democracy.”

As Nature journal once put it:

“The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.”

For more information, see http://www.deathofevidence.ca/why.

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