Canadian Government Waging War on Science

In Canada, scientists are growing more and more concerned about federal cutbacks to research programs that study everything from climate change and ocean sciences to public health. Recently, the government closed 7 of 11 Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries across the country in a purported cost-cutting measure.

In the past five years, the Canadian federal government has fired more than 2,000 scientists, and stripped funding from hundreds of research programs and facilities, according to CBC News. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) plans to close 7 of 11 of its libraries by 2015, and reports have emerged about books being trashed and critical material lost instead of the materials being digitized, as the government supposedly intended. CBC reports,

Programs that monitored things such as smoke stack emissions, food inspections, oil spills, water quality and climate change have been drastically cut or shut down.

Last week, the DFO released a statement saying their decision to “consolidate” the libraries “was based on value for taxpayers.” But The Tyee reports that a federal document labeled “secret” indicates that the library closures have little to do with digitizing information as the government previously suggested. The document mentions “the culling of materials” from closed libraries.

Reports suggest that books and scientific studies are already being carelessly strewn across library floors and thrown into dumpsters. According to CBC, scientists went public last week with their concerns that irreplaceable scientific research could be lost.

“What’s important is the scale of the assault on knowledge, and on our ability to know about ourselves and to advance our understanding of our world,” James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers told CBC. “Canadians are going to have their government have to make policies based on much less fact and data and information – it’s going to be more ideologically driven.”

In September, scientists and residents of 17 cities held rallies, sponsored by the non-profit science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, to urge the government to stop the assault on science. In response, the Minister of State for Science and Technology issued a statement, saying, “Our government is committed to science, technology and innovation and taking ideas to the marketplace.”

Some scientists and residents feel that Canada’s conservative government is waging war on science in favor of the fossil fuel industry. Toronto-born singer Neil Young entered into the fray when he commented on the Alberta oil sands during a press conference on Sunday, The Guardian reports.

“People don’t realize what [the tar sands] look like,” he said. “It’s worse than anything you can imagine… It’s the greediest, most destructive and disrespectful demonstration of something run amok that you can ever see.”

Canada’s Alberta oil sands have “proven” oil reserves of 171.3 billion barrels, the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, according to a government website. As of July 2013, there were 114 active oil sands projects in Alberta.

Canada supplies 1.4 million barrels of oil per day to the United States.

Oil sands crude has been called the “most toxic fossil fuel” on the planet. “The oil sands projects are among the very dirtiest on earth,” Young said. “Per day, the oil sands operations produce as much CO2 as all the cars in Canada.”

Last month, a transfer of authority put environmental regulatory authority of Alberta’s tar sands directly into the hands of the oil industry.

More than 75 oil industry regulators working for the government left the environment department last year to take higher-paying jobs with the Alberta Energy Regulator, an industry-backed organization. More government employees are expected to transfer over, and the environment department has also transferred thousands of files on oil industry activity to the new regulatory authority.

Air quality in the tar sands region is already monitored by the oil and gas industry.

In Alberta’s “Industrial Heartland,” over 40 companies process fossil fuels that emit harmful organic compounds, including benzene, propane, butane, and ethane. The region is “one of the world’s most attractive locations for chemical, petrochemical, oil, and gas investment,” according to its website. In November, researchers found that male residents of the area exhibited increased rates of leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to air pollution.

A recent investigation of internal documents obtained by Postmedia News found that more than $100 million in cuts are being implemented by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans – the federal department in charge of protecting Canada’s oceans and waterways.

The investigation determined that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is eliminating nearly 500 jobs at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans related to “patrols to stop illegal fishing activities as well as scientific research to promote conservation, protect endangered species, and prevent industrial water pollution,” according to

“Over the last few years, the government of Canada – led by Stephen Harper – has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and other scientists,” a New York Times editorial notes. “The government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries, and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands.”

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.

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