Canada's Government Silences Scientists, Sides With Corporate Interests

Canada's Government Silences Scientists, Sides With Corporate Interests

Climate scientists were muzzled from speaking to the press, causing an 80 percent decrease in the coverage of environmental stories -   September 24, 2013
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Yves Engler is a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian - Stephen Harper's Foreign Policy, and previously he published The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Canada in Haiti: Waging War on The Poor Majority


Canada's Government Silences Scientists, Sides With Corporate InterestsJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

In 2008, two years into Stephen Harper's administration, scientists working for the federal agency Environment Canada were told they can't speak with the press unless they had approval from higher up. Now it seems to have ramped up even more, with the Canadian government being accused of silencing scientists, especially in regard to the Alberta tar sands, which, as you know, would be the source of oil that would flow through the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

With us to discuss this issue is activist and author Yves Engler.

Welcome back to The Real News, Yves.


DESVARIEUX: So Stephen Harper, he himself being from Alberta, home of Canada's oil boom, has long been known as an ally of Canadian fossil fuel industry. Can you speak about the ways in which the government has been trying to silence scientists?

ENGLER: Yeah. I mean, the first thing is is that they are following a very, very strongly pro tar sands or extractivist policy, as some have put forward, in favor of, you know, mining interests, obviously tar sands interests, which is a type of mining. And in alongside that is a hostility to international climate negotiations, pulling out of the Kyoto protocol, but also is a hostility to investigating and, you know, researching some of the changes to our climate, to our environment.

And in 2007, they brought in new rules around Environment Canada researchers', climate researchers' ability to talk to the media specifically. And internal government documents showed that it led to an immediate 80 percent reduction in the amount of media attention that Environment Canada climate researchers had year over year, so a huge drop in media coverage of Environment Canada researchers.

They've more recently cut the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, just completely eliminated this (and this was a body that had done a certain amount of climate research), cut thousands of--money for--thousands of researchers laid off, thousands of scientists, researchers.

And in recent--well, last week there was--there's growing resistance to this, and last week there was major protests in 17 cities across the country under the banner standing up for science that was led by scientists denouncing these cuts, which have received a certain amount of hostility internationally as well.

DESVARIEUX: So let's talk about how this information has affected policy. What kind of change has there been under Stephen Harper in terms of the federal government dismantling environmental restrictions?

ENGLER: Significant change, most importantly with regards to pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, but also in terms of protected lakes, a couple of thousands. In their omnibus budget bill a year ago, they eliminated protections for a couple of thousand lakes across the country by rewriting the rules. They've been lax, you know, with regards to--and this is more of a provincial matter, but lax with regards to the pollution that comes from the tar sands. There's, you know, a company about a month ago came out that there's just leaking pollution into the ground, up in the Alberta tar sands. The company can't figure out where it's coming from, how to stop it.

So there's been a--this is a government that prioritizes corporate profit, very clearly. And one of the things that's an obstacle to corporate profit, of course, is, you know, evidence-based research, you know, around the ecological toll of the different, you know, tar sands, different other mining policies. And the government has made it very clear that it wants to eliminate, as much as possible, one of the hindrances to corporate profit, which is research into the ecological toll of different extractivist projects.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And, Yves, you mention that there's been public protest going on against the muzzling of scientists. What has the media's response been to all these demonstrations?

ENGLER: Well, the media's response has been--it's been okay. It's actually been somewhat sympathetic relative to the corporate media in general, partly because the other--another side to Conservatives' muzzling of scientists is this extreme information control. And so, you know, they're blocking scientists from, you know, publishing--government-funded scientists from publishing in academic journals and from talking to journalists.

But they're also--at the same time, they're also, you know, further controlling the press gallery at the Canadian press club. And the ministers and the different ministries respond to journalists quite--control information that they give to journalists as well. So there's a certain level of, I guess, sympathy among journalists to the plight of scientists.

And there's, I think, a certain level of international embarrassment. Last Sunday, The New York Times ran an editorial that criticized the muzzling of scientists in Canada, which got a certain amount of play. And there's been a number of international environmental journalists and leading international scientists that have criticized the government's policy.

But, again, so you have a certain level of sympathy, and if you read the papers closely, there is the coverage of what's going on. But there's fairly middle of sort of connecting the dots between this aggressive hostility towards science and the discussion of science and their strongly pro-corporate policy.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you--.

ENGLER: --dominant media bringing those two, connecting those two things together.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Yves.

ENGLER: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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