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7May 2013

MacLeans - In Canada, Tory gov't in "Orwellian" crackdown on scientists talking without a permit

MacLeans - In Canada, Tory gov't in "Orwellian" crackdown on scientists talking without a permit

It's been seven years since the conservative Canadian government led by prime minister Stephen Harper started to put muzzles on  federal employees who stray from the script when talking to the media. This prominently includes scientists and other researchers who might have opinions on interesting things, such as the nation's energy policies, wildlife and land management, climate trends, medical research priorities, and some things that are interesting just because they are interesting including odd animal behavior or astronomy or autocratic psychological syndromes.

   Nonetheless it remains a shock every time when reading again how deeply into its government institutions has penetratede the fervor to put barriers between scientists and reporters or other members of the public. Knight trackers have of course taken note of the disarray in scientists' freedom to talk directly with the Canadia public before (including posts by Deb Blum (here), Paul Raeburn (here), and yours truly (here).

   For the lastest north of the border, try this excellent rundown:

  It's tough enough for reporters in the US who, since the second Bush was in office and continuing at an appreciable level under Obama, are told that a p.r. person will have to sit in on any interview one might want to have. I once had the damnedest time getting to speak just one-on-one with an astronomer looking for planets circling other stars. Now, there's a policy minefield! But at least we down here tend to get a strong portion of the interviews reasonably promptly. In Canada one is lucky to get a nanny-sat interview within weeks of a request which might as well be never.

   One can so easily remember the lessons we learned as Americans how different things are in lands with no freedom - places where government minders listen to one's conversations, and people can get fired or even jailed for simply speaking their mind without a signed pass from the secret police. I always figured Canadians were fellow travelers in the freedom boat. Looks like that vessel is starting to ride a little lower in the water. At least, so far, one doesn't read of any reporters or publishers up north arrested for printing what their beleaguered sources slipped past, or bravely openly defied, the censors in command.

  The MacLeans story simply declares that muzzling is underway. Other recent stories tend to state it with a real or implied question mark. A sampling of such reports on Canada's chill toward scientific staffs' freedom of speech:

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