Canadian scientists protest Harper's attacks on science
Monday, October 13, 2008
Citing actions taken by the Conservative government since winning a minority government in 2006, 85 scientists across Canada have signed an open letter to all national party leaders calling on them to state how they will 'improve Canada’s track record' regarding the objectivity of science. This is the second such initiative within the week, the letter on 7 October being signed by 120 scientists.
The scientists signing the latest letter represent hundreds of researchers such as Deans, Department Heads, Research Chairs, and research team leaders. They come from academic fields of Anthropology, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Biology, Community Health and Epidemiology, Criminology, Earth & Ocean Sciences, Educational Psychology, Environmental & Engineering Sciences, Land Resource Science, Medicine, Nursing, Philosophy, Physics, Psychiatry, Social Work, and Sociology.
Queen's University climate researcher John Smol lamented the need for scientists to protest in a public forum. "I think scientists tend to be conservative when it comes to voicing their opinions. But as far as the environment is concerned, the problem is so bad and the consequences are so terrible if we do not act," he told CBC News.
The Harper government was cited for actions across the academic spectrum, from nuclear safety to human health to climate science. A repeated charge is misreprestation and/or suppression of scientific finds, as well as acting to prevent the dissemination of research, to silence scientists.
|While science is not the only factor to be considered in political decision-making, ignoring and subverting science and scientific processes is unacceptable.|
—Canadian Scientists Against the Politicization of Science
Within the government's own Environment Canada the Conservatives have been accused of muzzling the department, even interfering with the release of one researcher's science fiction novel. The novel, entitled "Hotter than Hell", deals with a not-too-distant future strongly affected by global warming. Then-Environmental Minister Rona Ambrose ordered the scientist not to attend talks to promote his novel where his job title was given.
“It’s absolutely Orwellian what’s going on here in science in Canada,” said environmental scientist Andrew Weaver in an interview with The Georgia Straight. Weaver, lead author on three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and the recently published "Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World", was not surprised when references to the UN's IPCC reports were removed from Canadian government websites. He wrote in his book about new rules the Harper government put in place, requiring journalist questions for Environment Canada scientists be submitted in writing, and responses must first be presented to media-relations staff for editing and approval.
Vancouver's Safe Injections Site project, Insite, a program designed to provide intravenous drug users with a medically-supervised location, is an internationally recognized model of successful harm-reduction public health policy, supported by both provincial and municipal governments. The national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, engaged in a campaign to undermine the project according to documents discovered in a Freedom of Information Act query, including financing politically-motivated research.
The conservative government has been antagonistic to the program since coming to power, and though losing its case at every level of courts has appealed the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruling which struck down portions of Canada's drug laws as unconstitutional. The judge gave the government one year to pass replacement legislation which addresses the Charter Right of addicts to health care which may save their life.
Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement has questioned the ethics of physicians who support the harm-reduction model of Insite. "Is it ethical for health-care professionals to support the administration of drugs that are of unknown substance, or purity or potency — drugs that cannot otherwise be legally prescribed?" he said at the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting.
"The minister was off base in calling into question the ethics of physicians involved in harm reduction," CMA president Brian Day responded. "It's clear that this was being used as a political issue." More than 80% of physicians support the harm-reduction model, he said.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Aren't the Conservatives in the right to press their ideologies, since that's what the voting public elected them to do?
- Gary Mason. "Insite revelation proves RCMP needs watching" — , 11 October 2008
- Paul Jay. "Canadian researchers call for end to 'politicization' of science" — , 9 October 2008
- Charlie Smith. "Climate scientist claims Stephen Harper's government has muzzled experts" — , 25 September 2008
- "Clement questions MDs who favour safe injection sites" — , 18 August 2008
- E . Wood , T . Kerr , M . Tyndall , J . Montaner. "The Canadian government's treatment of scientific process and evidence: Inside the evaluation of North America's first supervised injecting facility (Abstract)" — , June 2008
- "Minister stops book talk by Environment Canada scientist" — , 13 April 2006
- "Legal Status of Insite" — ,