Yesterday the Calgary Herald published the kind of story that's become all too familiar in Canada in recent years. This time it involves a scientist working for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Dr. Kristi Miller heads up a project created to investigate the abrupt decrease in the size of salmon stocks on the west coast and she made a discovery significant enough that when her findings were published in Science this past January, the magazine contacted over 7,400 journalists around the world to draw it to their attention. And it worked — according to the Herald "major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller." And the next clause in that sentence is:
but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.
At that point the government stepped in and issued a muzzle order.
The Privy Council Office also nixed a Fisheries Department news release about Miller's study, saying the release "was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect," according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.
So the dying salmon are important enough to justify a $6 million project but not important enough to feature prominently in a press release? And if the only problem was emphasis, surely the release could have been revised to focus more on the "new science aspect."
Dr. Miller isn't allowed to discuss her work publicly and the PCO defends this action by pointing out that she's scheduled to testify before a judicial inquiry next month.
[Dalhouse University fisheries scientist Jeffrey] Hutchings doesn't buy it, saying he finds it "inconceivable that the Cohen Commission would have viewed the communication of brand new scientific information as somehow interfering with its proceedings."
To Hutchings, the muzzling of Miller is "all about control -- controlling the message and controlling communication."
And it seems impossible not to agree with Hutchings because this fits the pattern we've seen so often in the five years that the Harper Government™ has been in a position to impose this:
Researchers, who used to be free to discuss their science, are now required to follow a process that includes "media lines" approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa. They vet media requests, demand reporters' questions in advance and decide when and if researchers can give interviews.
Environment Canada now even has media officers in Ottawa tape-recording the interviews scientists are allowed to give.
My initial reaction to the story was to note my own lack of surprise. This is what I now expect and I defy anyone who's been paying attention to make a case that we should expect anything different. And when I refer to those who have been "paying attention", I refer of course to all the newspapers across the country who endorsed this government and even encouraged us to hand them a majority so they could have even tighter control over the flow of information. And this after the same government had just earned itself a contempt of parliament citation for refusing to disclose documents.
The people who claim to be in business to keep us informed lined up to endorse a government that was already notorious for its attempts to keep us all uninformed to an unprecedented degree. I hope the members of all those newspaper editorial boards are pleased with themselves because they've gotten exactly what they asked for.