state of our democracy - muzzling government scientists prevents public access to taxpayer-funded scientific information, Canadians have the right of access to information
Canada’s Information Commissioner will investigate a complaint that federal government scientists are facing new restrictions on their ability to speak publicly about their work, her office announced in April 2013.
The complaint, submitted by the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre and Democracy Watch “alleges that the right of access to information under the act is impeded by government policies, practices or guidelines that restrict or prohibit government scientists from speaking with the media and the Canadian public.” Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault’s office found that the complaint “falls within the scope” of the legislative mandate of the Access to Information Act.
The complaint was accompanied by a 128-page report detailing a number of incidents of scientists being prevented from speaking to the media, many of which are documented on this site. [Links to be added.]
The investigation will include as many as six federal departments: Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada, the National Research Council, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Treasury Board Secretariat.
The office of then-Minister of State for Science and Technology Greg Rickford issued a statement in 2014 stating that in 2012, “Environment Canada participated in more than 1,300 media interviews,” in addition to 2500 publications being produced by Environment Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. No information was provided regarding the number of interviews that had been denied.
This comes about at a time when Canada’s information watchdog has been experiencing an unprecedented number of complaints. In her 2012–13 annual report, Legault noted that complaints “jumped by a staggering 50 percent" in the first quarter of 2013. She cited a number of causes: the Harper government is too often citing security to withhold documents; some government departments are unable to respond in a timely manner due to understaffing; others did not retrieve and analyze records before telling requesters they could not have access; and investigations were hampered by the disappearance or amalgamation of institutions. She said, "the integrity of the federal access to information program is at serious risk."