Jun 14, 2012

Ottawa hush job: Parks Canada employees latest to be silenced

What do Parks Canada employees and scientists employed by the feds have in common? The likelihood of being muzzled if what they have to say runs counter to the official line.

CBC reports that Parks Canada employees have been silenced by the feds - not permitted to criticize the agency or the federal government. Employees have received letters of caution to that effect. This is happening at a time when the agency has been cutting hundreds of jobs.


Workers are not supposed to speak about the cuts, whether at meetings, forums or through social media. Only designated people are allowed to deal with journalists.

Anyone who has an issue is supposed to go through internal processes, like filing a grievance, or talk with a supervisor, human resources manager or the Parks Canada ombudsman. 

Eddie Kennedy, national executive VP of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said the letter of caution went out to thousands of agency employees across Canada. He said it effectively means that the only message getting out is the government's.

He told CBC news: "If you're in a coffee shop and you're criticizing the Harper government and there's someone sitting beside you and they know you work for a government department, technically you're in violation of the code of ethics."

This attempt to hush-up criticism and opinion that doesn't reflect government thinking is a tactic that seems to come naturally to the current administration in Ottawa. Nor is it anything new. In a 2010 report, Climate Action Network Canada/Réseau action climat Canada described actions by the federal government to "muzzle its own climate scientists and weaken the research capacity of Canada’s climate science community" - details here. 

These control tactics are something you might expect in a story on research suppression in a more obviously authoritarian regime. Some of the examples of scientists who have been silenced in Canada make troubling reading.

Huffington Post:

For almost three weeks after David Tarasick published findings about one of the largest ozone holes ever discovered above the Arctic, the federal scientist was barred from breathing a word about it to the media.

Kristi Miller was similarly gagged from granting interviews about her own research into a virus that might be killing British Columbia's wild sockeye salmon, despite going to print in the prestigious journal Science.

Such incidents aren't one-off occurrences, but instead represent a trend of "muzzling" policies being imposed on Canadian scientists by federal agencies under the Conservative government, a panel told their international peers Friday at a global science conference in Vancouver. 

The Huffpo article also mentions an open letter to the PM by a coalition of six science and communications organizations that raises objections shared by a lot of Canadians.

It said in part:

Despite promises that your majority government would follow principles of accountability and transparency, federal scientists in Canada are still not allowed to speak to reporters without the 'consent' of media relations officers.

Increasingly, journalists have simply given up trying to access federal scientists, while scientists at work in federal departments are under undue pressure in an atmosphere dominated by political messaging. 

Link here for the full Huffington Post article.

So really, given the track record of this government, the silencing of federal employees fits right in with the agenda. It's part of a pattern we've been seeing. Harper was elected to govern on a promise of "accountability and transparency." He wasn't elected to undermine democracy and free speech in the name of an ideological agenda.

Michael Mann on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight talking about the muzzling of scientists in Canada: