Canadian scientists offer support to muzzled US counterparts

Canadian scientists – who were muzzled for nearly a decade by the country’s previous Conservative government – have been making contact with their counterparts in the US to offer their support and solidarity amid mounting fears that Donald Trump’s presidency will seek to suppress climate science.

For nine years, scientists with Canada’s federal government grappled with what many described as an all out assault on science.

Scientific libraries were closed, programmes suffered drastic cutbacks while federal scientists were banned from talking to media on topics that ranged from snowflakes to salmon and even a 13,000-year-old flood.

“It was a dramatic departure from past practices,” said Robert MacDonald, who has worked as a federal government scientist for nearly 30 years.

In 2015, the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals swept to a majority government, buoyed in part by promises to reverse the draconian restrictions the previous government had imposed on its scientists.

MacDonald pointed to a 2013 survey of government scientists in which 24% said they had been directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons. “That’s something you would expect to hear in the 1950s from eastern Europe, not something you expect to hear from a democracy like Canada in 2013,” he said. “And I think, by all indication, that’s what our sisters and brothers are going to be faced with down in the United States.”

Recent days have seen the Trump administration reportedly consider scrubbing all mentions of climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency website, while the Associated Press reported that EPA scientists could be subject to a “temporary hold”, pending review by political appointees.

The reports have sparked concern north of the border. “We’re already reaching out to our counterparts in the US and in the international science community,” said Debi Daviau, head of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, a union that represents more than 15,000 government scientists, engineers and researchers.

On Thursday, her organisation released a statement calling the actions of the Trump administration a “chilling reminder” of the years under Stephen Harper’s leadership. “We therefore stand in solidarity with our colleagues and fellow government scientists in the United States … by once again declaring science should never be silenced, and by expressing our hope that the current restrictions on US government scientists will soon be lifted and do not signal a lasting change in US policy on science, similar to the one we fought so long to overturn in Canada.”

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