Information Commissioner Asked to Look Into Possible Muzzling of Federal Scientists

Canada’s Information Commissioner has been asked by the non-profit organization Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic to investigate whether supposed muzzling of federal scientists breaches the Access to Information Act. The question came alongside a jointly submitted report outlining all of the alleged ways in which the Federal government has sought to suppress the opinions of scientists on its payroll.

The report accuses the federal government of not allowing certain scientists to speak to the media, imposing procedural delays for releasing information that are purposefully incompatible with journalists’ deadlines, selectively choosing inquiries to respond to and using communications employees to create ‘approved lines’ for the scientists to relay. There report also alleges that the government uses subtle forms of intimidation, such as forcing a scientist’s interview to be fully recorded or having a communications employee sit in on a meeting with a reporter.

Tyler Sommers, coordinator for Democracy Watch, specified that there are two specific areas of the Access to Information Act which they think are being violated:
1)  “State government information should be available to the public and necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific.”
2)  “The government should provide ‘timely access’ to records without regard to the identity of a person making the request.”

Sommers added that he hopes there will be a full investigation on the matter, especially as the Information Commissioner is currently reviewing Canada’s access to information laws in comparison to other countries.

In response to the report, Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear stated “we reject the premise of the accusations” and added that the federal government “provides significant access to federal scientists.” The report is based on information from conversations with current and former public servants, journalists, non-profit organizations, university professors and freedom of information requests.

Ottawa Citizen
Report – Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy