Muzzling and Communication

“More protection to whistleblowers should be afforded.”

“The development of carefully crafted "Values and Ethics" codes across government are resulting in silencing the scientific community for fear of breaching their "Duty to Loyalty" (and are becoming synonymous with gag order).”

“Leaving public service for academia. Won't have a muzzle anymore.”

“Canada should have a media relations policy for public science that is equivalent to the USA’s.”

“I am outraged by the Orwellian restriction of information under the current government. I cannot see any justification for preventing scientists from speaking about publicly-funded, published research to the media. The data were paid for by all Canadians and in my view belong to all Canadians. For us to work in the public interest, we need to be able to express our findings to non-scientists through public presentations and news media. There can be no argument that the restriction is for reasons of national security, when the information is already published. I am sure that I did not sign a confidentiality agreement designed to protect elected officials from minor embarrassment or surprise. If the public service is truly non-partisan, then our results should not be repressed to serve the interests of one political party over another. Furthermore, every time we have to ask permission to speak to the media, even if that permission is ultimately granted, it reduces the appearance of independence and transparency of government science.”

“I have witnessed a trend in the past 5 yrs to use “For official use only” as a designation (not classification) to wilfully limit document distribution solely for the purpose of preventing perceived Government sensitivities. Additionally, there has been a push to increase classifications in order to limit document availability through Access to Information requests. The reverse should be the case: make more info available to more people to inform positions and discussions, NOT limit access and Government policies and decisions.”

“The government that promised to be more open and transparent is breaking that promise. The focus seems to be more on message control than developing an informed citizenry and evidence-based policy.”

“With Meteorology we are in a somewhat unique position in that our availability to the media is relatively unrestricted. We do have to be careful what we say and keep it to the weather however. I outright refuse to answer climate questions, it is an issue fraught with too many traps. Could be career limiting.”

“The freedom to publish results of scientific studies is fundamental to the basis of public science. This should be defended strongly. If the public paid for the research to be done the results should be published in scientific journals.”

“The biggest problem with media/communications as well as conference approvals is the slowness. Usually approvals arrive after the media deadlines; and too late for arrangements to travel to a conference (sometimes the day before the conference, even the day of) or so late that only very expensive arrangements can be made (in which case most scientists decline to go). Regarding accountability, I am in favour of the idea in principle, but the reporting and approvals requirements now in place in the department are so onerous that they are preventing effective communications between scientists. I have worked for DFO >20 years and have never had so few resources or been so badly bogged down with bureaucracy. The closing of the libraries, all the approvals that put so many hurdles in the way of every scholarly and scientific activity and communication... DFO has always had image problems with the fishing community, but was respected in the international scientific community for ground-breaking research. I feel that is no longer the case and the Canadian public service, particularly where science and the environment is concerned, is an embarrassment and is not taken seriously. I fully expect to leave the department within the year; I am actively job-hunting.”

“I think that the federal government leadership is ready to silence some scientific evidence when the facts play against their economic agenda. Two examples: the environmental damage and pollution caused by the exploitation of the tar sands and the serious impact of chemical pollution on the health of the population living in and around Sarnia (ON).”

“The new policies the government is putting into effect are outrageous. Forcing scientists to sign a contract stating they will get approval before publishing any scientific studies? That has red flags all over it. The government can NOT expect to excel in science if it is muzzling its scientists in cases where the facts don't mesh with new policies.”

“For the past [REMOVED] years I have been in [POSITION REMOVED]. I work on environmental files like waste, water, species at risk, monitoring, and EA [Environmental Assessment]. Despite what the scientists think, we are told what to say and that we have to put a positive spin on everything and to support economic development at all costs. Our role as both stewards and advisors has been silenced. We are tasked with work that we ethically do not agree with and must support. If we do not, they simply bring in project people who are non scientists who will write what senior management wants to hear. I am over worked, disrespected, undervalued, and I hate every day of my job where I used to love coming to work.”

“Often, we are told to send questions to media relations or comms when media asks questions about certain subjects, such as … we cannot comment on global warming and individual weather events (but maybe that is a good thing). Currently, we are being told off the record (because an email would be subject to an ATIP request) that we have to refer enquiries about the new 30 year climate normals (1980-2010) that have long been delayed to the media relations line. Interesting climate trends could show up with this new data. Supposed to come out in next 6 weeks, perhaps on a Friday afternoon before the July long weekend. Staff are also no longer allowed to see news clips about EC that used to be collected in a central repository site. Those links are dead now.”

“I was part of a small research farm that was cut. The managers who cut our entire farm could not give any real answers as to the reasons for our cut. Our facilities were top notch, as was our research, we were cost effective, we served a linguistic minority. We had close relationships with industry and the community, and when we were cut, we were muzzled. We weren't allowed to make even the tiniest comment. The public around us perceived it as not caring about the community, their needs, etc. It was very difficult. We were told that our job options with the government or our settlements would be at risk, and that we could be prosecuted. Even comments as private citizens were considered punishable. The effect on us was horrific, the effect on the community devastating. I have been lucky enough to find another position with the federal government, but even on my own personal Facebook page, I am afraid to comment on or "like" any news items or comments my friends post on the current anti-science agenda in Ottawa...”

“Media policy is slow, involves 'minders' to listen to interviews supposedly to keep the scientist from being taken out of context (this is what research scientists were told by a rep from Privy Council office). This was implemented when the Harper govt. was elected (at that time a minority govt) and I had never seen or heard of such policy in all my years (at that point 20 y) with gov’t. I also was unaware of any EC scientist that had been taken out of context or misquoted by media, so I don't believe that is a reason to have 'minders' on media interviews. Also, up until the Harper govt., when the media called for an interview with me as a research scientist I simply gave the interview and wrote up a media report thereafter. Now, managers decide if whoever gets the call is the appropriate contact for the specific topic; the process of waiting for approval is slow (days), and onerous (lots of email, phone calls) and involves minders, therefore I have given up doing media interviews bc it takes so much time from my work. I refer reporters to NGOs that might be involved. I believe other research scientists and biologists do the same based on conversations with them.”