A Who’s-Who of Canada’s Muzzled Scientists

A comprehensive list including links to their research and evidence they were silenced.

My recent essay in the Tyee deconstructed the Harper government’s muzzling of federal scientists. It exposed the policies that facilitate muzzling and explained how they are applied. Below is a comprehensive list of silenced scientists as reported in the media. I will add to it as new incidents are uncovered.

The muzzling of federal scientists has grown exponentially under the Harper government. Source: CJFE.
The muzzling of federal scientists has grown exponentially under the Harper government. Source: CJFE.

In a number of cases there are documents proving that the muzzling took place and who was responsible. These documents were obtained by the journalists using ATIP (Access to Information and Privacy) requests. Finding past ATIPs has become more difficult after the Harper government killed the CAIRS database.

Note that muzzling occurs on both an individual and group basis. This list deals exclusively with the individuals. See my Tyee essay for more information.

The Muzzled

I have divided the evidence into three categories: a) Cases with supporting documentation; b) Cases with (unavailable) supporting documentation; and c) Cases supported by other evidence. In each section the most recent cases are listed first.

Cases with supporting documentation

  • Environment Canada ice scientist Leah Braithwaite was denied the opportunity to speak about the deteriorating Arctic ice cap in 2012. The 449-page ATIP revealed Ministerial Services cancelled the briefing. (Reported by Margaret Munro, Postmedia News)

  • National Research Council (NRC) scientists were prevented from discussing a snow study they conducted with NASA in 2012. A 52-page ATIP shows that the journalist specifically asked “for someone to speak to”. Stewart Baillie, the Flight Research Laboratory Director, was identified as a possible interviewee. However, Katharine Trim, Director General of NRC’s Communications and Corporate Research Branch scuttled the idea: “I am not convinced we need an interview. A few lines on our involvement are fine. Please let me see them first. Thanks.” Baillie retired in 2013. (Reported by Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen)

  • Environment Canada ozone scientist David Tarasick was prevented from speaking to the media about the 2011 discovery of the very first Arctic ozone hole. The discovery was reported in Nature. After nearly three weeks of intense public pressure, the federal government finally relented – but the interview was monitored and interrupted by communications personnel. Documents1 (see here, here, here, here and here) revealed that Tarasick was available and willing to do the interview, but was shut down by the Environment Minister’s office. (Reported by Margaret Munro and Mike De Souza, Postmedia News)

  • Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller was not permitted to talk to the media in 2011 about her research implicating a virus in the death of BC sockeye salmon. Miller’s findings were published in Science. Documents2 reveal that Miller was muzzled by the Privy Council Office, the secretariat of the federal cabinet. (Reported by Margaret Munro, Postmedia News)

Cases with supporting documentation that is not presently available

  • Fisheries and Oceans algae scientist Max Bothwell was prevented from talking to the media about Didymo (also called “rock snot”), an algae found in cold lakes and streams with low nutrient levels. Bothwell’s work was published in Diatom Research in 2014. (Reported by Dene Moore, CP)

  • Environmental scientist Philippe Thomas was prevented in 2012 from discussing toxins in fur-bearing animals in the oilsands. Documents reveal Thomas was muzzled by the Environment Minister’s Office. (Reported by Carol Linnitt, DeSmog Canada)

  • Natural Resources scientist Scott Dallimore was lost the opportunity to talk to the media in 2010 about a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada 13,000 years ago. His study was reported in Nature. Documents revealed that approval for interviews arrived after journalists had published their stories. (Reported by Margaret Munro, Postmedia News)

Cases supported by other evidence

  • Former Fisheries and Oceans scientist Michael Rennie revealed in 2014 that he had been repeatedly muzzled and not allowed to talk about the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). He was able to speak to reporters again after leaving the government to join IISD’s ELA effort. (Interview by Carol Off, CBC)

  • Fisheries scientist Steve Campana was not allowed to tell Canadians about how to determine the age of lobster and shrimp. His work was published in 2012 in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. He revealed he had been muzzled after retiring. (Reported by Stephen Puddicombe, CBC News)

  • Water scientist Marley Waiser was forbidden in 2011 to talk about pollutants discovered in Regina’s Wascana Creek. Waiser’s work was published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. She revealed she had been muzzled after retiring. (Reported by CBC News)

  • Environment Canada scientist Mark Tushingham was stopped from talking about a work of fiction he wrote in 2006 involving climate change. A second printing of the book was needed owing to unexpected demand. The news that Tushingham had been muzzled was revealed by his publisher. (Reported by CBC News)

  1. Some notes on the Tarasick ATIPs:

    • Tarasick’s emails indicate has was available and interested in interviewing with media;
    • responses were prepared by Media Relations and submitted to the Assistant Deputy Minister without any input from Tarasick;
    • interviews were ultimately denied. Written responses were provided along with the instruction “You may attribute these responses to Dr. David Tarasick”;
    • Environment Canada had recommended an interview take place, but was overruled by the Minister’s Office. Written responses were claimed to have been authored by Tarasick; and,
    • the Department refused to explain why an interview with Tarasick was denied.

    There is a lot of additional interesting information in the final two ATIPS.

  2. Highlights from the 762-page Miller ATIP include:

    • a Q&A was developed (pg. 534) and media lines were prepared (pg. 538);
    • there were many media requests leading up to the discovery’s publication (pg. 541);
    • Miller was prepared to do interviews but was waiting for approval from Ottawa (pg. 545);
    • contingency plans were developed by co-authors at UBC in case Miller could not do the interviews (pg. 552);
    • reporters began to abandon their requests to interview Miller owing to the delays (pg. 576);
    • the Minister’s Office (MO) approved the interviews and sent the interview products to the Privy Council Office (PCO) for “signoff” (pg. 594);
    • the Privy Council Office (PCO) decided to prohibit interviews (pg. 606; 581, 587);
    • concerns were raised of the risk Postmedia reporter Margaret Munro might write an article about DFO scientists being muzzled (pg. 695); and
    • it was explained to Munro that interviews were declined because the Government of Canada wanted to ensure that there was no perception of interference with the Cohen Commission (pg. 694).