Canadian Scientists 'Mourn Death of Evidence' under Harper Government

Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper: his government is accused of jeopardizing Canada's scientific reputation. (Photograph: Todd Korol/Reuters)

Canadian Scientists 'Mourn Death of Evidence' under Harper Government

Protest march will highlight public harm done by gutting of research programs

A funeral procession of scientists wearing white lab coats and mourners dressed in black will take to the streets of Ottawa today to "mourn the death of Evidence" and protest what they see as an attack on environmental science by the Harper government.

The scientists say a rash of recent cuts exposes the government's hostility to evidence-based research and is putting the public at risk. Despite claims by government officials that the cuts are a necessary part of a cost-cutting and efficiency plan, the scientists claim they are directed at research programs critical of the government's energy development plans, specifically the tar sands mining taking place in Alberta.

"There is a systematic campaign to reduce the flow of scientific evidence to Canadians," said Dr. Scott Findlay, Associate Professor and former Director the University of Ottawa's Institute of Environment. "As a result, the public hears and sees only information that supports federal government policy or ideology. That's not evidence, that's propaganda."

"It's not about saving money. It's about imposing ideology."

Scientists and organizers contend the assault on science has been ongoing, but cite the following specific government cuts in recent months:

  • Large reductions in critical research programs in Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the National Research Council of Canada, Statistics Canada and elsewhere.
  • The shutdown of irreplaceable systems vital to the health of Evidence, including the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory and the First Nations Statistical Institute.
  • Inadequate information diet resulting from the loss of such important sources of information as the National Science Advisor, Law Commission of Canada, and National Round Table on Environment and Economy.

"It definitely seems to us these cuts are not just part of fighting the deficit, that there is a systematic attack on science and the preferential cutting of programs that may produce results not in line with the Conservative agenda," says Katie Gibbs, a PhD student at the University of Ottawa and one of the organizers of the rally.

Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, was even more pointed speaking to The Guardian. "It's not about saving money. It's about imposing ideology," he said. "What's happening here is that the government has an ideological agenda to develop the Canadian economy based on the extraction of oil out of the Alberta tar sands as quickly as possible and sell it as fast as it can, come hell and high water, and eliminate any barriers that stand in their way."

"The Harper government is the most environmentally hostile one we have ever had in Canada. Harper pulled Canada out of the Kyoto protocol, gutted the Fisheries Act (our strongest freshwater protection law), and hollowed out our environmental assessment legislation, making it easier for extractive industries to get licences to exploit," said Maude Barlow, a former UN advisor on water and chair of the Council of Canadians. "It is heartlessly shutting down a program that costs very little to run given the incredible benefits it brings, in order to silence the voices who speak for water."

"Scientists are generally not agitators, but this continuous set of decisions has got very many scientists hot under the collar," said Findley.

The rally will begin at the Ottawa Convention Center at noon and march to Parliament Hill following.

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