'Muzzled' Canadian Scientists Call for Protections in Federal Contracts

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'Muzzled' Canadian Scientists Call for Protections in Federal Contracts

Recently retired biologist warns of 'death spiral for government science'

Canada's New Democrat Party has launched a petition calling on the government "to restore funding to agencies and programs that directly support fundamental research and scientist-driven discovery—and to ensure that scientific integrity is always protected from political interference." (Image: NDP)

Canadian federal scientists, backed by major public sector unions, are protesting in Ottawa and beyond on Tuesday against "the muzzling of Canada's public scientists and partisan interference in the development of public science" under Stephen Harper's administration.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), along with several other organized labor groups and the science advocacy organization Evidence for Democracy, is pushing for language on "scientific integrity" to be included in the workers' next contract—a response to slashed funding for science research, shuttering of labs, and alleged silencing of government researchers.

"This government has no respect whatsoever for Canada’s public scientists."
Debi Daviau, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

As the Globe and Mail reports, "The language is intended to ensure that researchers employed by the government can speak openly about their work, publish results without fear of censorship and collaborate with peers."

"It's really just about protecting the scientist's rights to actually do science," Evidence for Democracy executive director Katie Gibbs told CTV's "Canada AM." She also wants those scientists to be allowed to share their work at scientific conferences and speak to the media more directly.

Since Harper's conservative government took control in 2006, federal funding for scientific research has been cut, labs have been shut down, and barriers have gone up between scientists and the general public. According to organizers of Tuesday's protests, some critical information has even ended up in Dumpsters. An independent 2014 analysis found that Canadian government agencies are considerably more restrictive and less transparent than their counterparts in the United States.

"This government has no respect whatsoever for Canada’s public scientists," PIPSC president Debi Daviau declared in a press release on Tuesday. "Right now our scientists are constrained in their ability to share their research and collaborate with their peers. They're frequently 'missing in action' at international conferences. They can't speak freely to the media and the public about their work. These are all essential elements of performing science in the public interest and that’s how you protect our country’s environment and the health and safety of Canadians."

In an exclusive interview with CBC News published Tuesday, retired government biologist Steve Campana echoed those claims, saying he fears a looming "death spiral for government science" in Canada.

"I see that is going to be a huge problem in the coming years," Campana said. "We are at the point where the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now disgusted as I am with the way things have gone, and I don't think there is any way for it to be recovered."

In addition to the protest in Ottawa, similar events were slated to take place in Montreal, Quebec City, and Vancouver.

Unions representing government scientists and engineers will head to the bargaining table with federal negotiators this week.

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