Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Parody of political paranoia

  • Print

The anecdotes of muzzled federal government scientists in a report by the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Clinic are so absurd as to be parody of political paranoia. Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault needs to decide whether they are isolated incidents or symptomatic of a scheme by the Harper government to keep Canadians in the dark on important findings funded by their tax dollars.

The media policy implemented by the federal Tories gives lip service to the critical role the news media play in a democracy. In reality, the edict that all messages and information must be vetted by media specialists on instruction from political offices speaks for itself. It curbs the free and impartial flow of information.

Some subjects are controversial -- Ottawa is protective of science relating to climate change and the oilsands. But preventing a Natural Resources scientist from speaking to a reporter about his discovery of a 13,000-year-old colossal flood in northern Canada is near comical.

Message control extends beyond barring access or delaying responses so long that news value is eclipsed, the clinic's report claims. One scientist was denied the ability to speak to a journalist about his report on the growth of the ozone hole over the Arctic; a media relations unit, in consultation with political offices, provided responses in his name without his input. Scientists at public conferences were warned not to speak to reporters and followed by government media types to ensure compliance.

The Harper government insists it is open, giving statistics to show the frequency of interviews granted. But the authoritarian nature of the federal policy is made clear in contrast to that of the Obama administration, which leaves it to agencies to write their own policies, respecting the integrity of scientists to speak for their own work.

The Harper government's approach is government-wide, but the muzzling of scientists best illustrates the audacity of an administration that acts like it knows the material better than the authors and implies it fears giving citizens access to unvarnished data and information that has not been washed by the political machinery.

The policy is undoubtedly obstructionist. Legault's bigger job is to assess whether it is deliberately designed to suppress and hide information for expressly political purposes. Ultimately, her office can only recommend, not order, the government to make amends. The government's co-operation and compliance with the review will be telling.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 A14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Chief justices breakdown cameras in courtroom project

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • A Great Horned Owl that was caught up in some soccer nets in Shamrock Park in Southdale on November 16th was rehabilitated and returned to the the city park behind Shamrock School and released this afternoon. Sequence of the release. December 4, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the province’s crackdown on flavoured tobacco products?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google