Cheers of approval greeted David Suzuki as he spoke before a large group that rallied in defence of science at the Vancouver Art Gallery today (September 16).
“We now have a prime minister intent on pushing through the pipeline across British Columbia before all of the scientific information—the assessment—is even in,” said the academic and famed environmentalist. “We don’t make informed decisions that way. We have to assess the information available. But what we are now is we are threatened with politicians deciding, not only whether or not to listen to scientists, but the kind of information that scientists are allowed to tell us about.”
The event was one of 14 protests staged across the country under the slogan Stand Up for Science.
In a telephone interview, Pamela Zevit, one of the Vancouver event organizers, told the Straight that federal Conservative policies are hindering the work of scientists and preventing researchers from meeting their responsibilities to society.
“Over the last few years, there have been a lot of shifts in how science is funded in Canada and in how science is communicated to the public,” she explained. “I happen to be a conservation biologist and I work with a number of individuals who are both inside and outside of government and I’ve seen the impacts that these changes have had in regards to ensuring that there is enough rigorous information that’s provided for decision making.”
The office of Greg Rickford, Canada’s minister of state for science and technology, did not respond to an interview request by deadline.
The same day that scientists and their supporters staged the protests across Canada, the NDP opposition critics for science and technology called on the government to pass a motion that would protect researchers from political interference.
On the phone from Ottawa, Kennedy Stewart, MLA for Burnaby-Douglas, told the Straight that some 200 scientists he’s spent the last two years meeting with regularly have expressed three major areas of concern.
“The first is that this muzzling that is creating a chilling climate, where you’re always looking over your shoulder,” he began.
The second is the significant number of researchers who have lost federally funded positions. “Since 2011, there have been 4,000 scientists and researchers who have lost their jobs,” Stewart said. “Considering we only have about 36,000 researchers in Canada employed by the federal government in Canada, that’s a lot, to lose 10 percent in two years.”
The third cause for alarm is funding cuts. According to Stewart, since 2006 there has been a six-percent reduction in federal funding for science and technology investment in Canada.
He described it all as part of a greater narrative related to an open hostility towards environmental science and climate change research, and how work in those fields could adversely impact the economic development of Alberta’s tar sands (also known as the oil sands).
“It’s gotten so bad that our information commissioner here has launched an investigation into six government departments, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, and the National Research Council,” Stewart said. “It really is a dark time for science in Canada.”