Feds blocking information on illness-causing bacteria, doctors charge

0820-MICROBIO-LAB
Published: November 17, 2013, 2:01 pm

The federal government is hobbling efforts to control antibiotic-resistant microbes by sitting on reports about bacteria that sicken and kill thousands of Canadians each year, several doctors say.

Infectious disease experts say Ottawa is treating national microbial surveillance reports like “sensitive government documents.” And the doctors are so frustrated, they are releasing the data they can obtain on their own website.

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Investigation launched into ‘muzzling’ of scientists by Harper government

Canada's information commissioner Suzanne Legault ~ Postmedia News

Canada’s information commissioner Suzanne Legault ~ Postmedia News

01/04/13 _ The federal information commissioner’s office is launching a sweeping investigation into complaints that the Harper government has been ”muzzling” and restricting access to scientists.

Seven federal departments and agencies, from Environment Canada to the National Research Council of Canada, have been told Suzanne Legault’s office plans to act on complaints about “the systematic efforts by the Government of Canada to obstruct the right of the media — and through them, the Canadian public — to timely access to government scientists.”

“A notice of our intention to investigate and a summary of complaint has been sent” to the seven departments, Emily McCarthy, assistant information commissioner, says in a March 27 letter to Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria. Continue reading

ABCs of ‘behaviour regulation’ for federal librarians and archivists

Published 19/03/2013

Heritage Minister James Moore tells the Commons the government was not consulted on the code~ Photo Fred Chartrand/CP

Heritage Minister James Moore tells the Commons the government was not consulted on the code
~ Photo Fred Chartrand/CP

Staff at Library and Archives Canada are being schooled in “methods of behaviour regulation”as part of the agency’s new code of conduct, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

Training sessions, which officials say are being given to all employees at the agency to ensure the controversial code “is known and understood by all,” start with a primer on values and ethics.

“Values help us establish standards, which allow us to choose our behaviour, make decisions, express our needs, and follow our personal path,” says a PowerPoint presentation on the two-hour training sessions.

It says morals and ethics are part of a continuum with “self-regulation” at one end and “heterogulation” at the other. Continue reading

A “muzzle and snitch line” for Library and Archives Canada

Published 13/03/15 

Jim Turk, executive director of CAUT ~ photo by Pat McGrath

Jim Turk, executive director of CAUT ~ photo by Pat McGrath

Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in “high risk” activities, according to the new code of conduct at Library and Archives Canada.

Given the dangers, the code says the department’s staff must clear such “personal” activities with their managers in advance to ensure there are no conflicts or “other risks to LAC.”

The code, which stresses federal employees’ “duty of loyalty” to the “duly elected government,” also spells out how offenders can be reported.

“It includes both a muzzle and a snitch line,” says James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which represents more than 68,000 teachers, librarians, researchers and academics across the country.

He and others say the code is evidence the Harper government is silencing and undermining its professional staff. Continue reading

Scientists call federal confidentiality and publication rules “chilling”

Canadian and US scientists used the  CCGS Henry Larsen, shown at the entrance to Petermann Fjord off Nares Strait in August 2012, to retrieve instruments assessing the ice and currents in the region. Photo Credit: Jon Poole and CCGS Henry Larsen

Canadian and US scientists used the CCGS Henry Larsen, shown at the entrance to Petermann Fjord off Nares Strait in August 2012, to retrieve instruments assessing the ice and currents in the region. Photo Credit: Jon Poole and CCGS Henry Larsen

Feb 14, 2013

By Margaret Munro, Postmedia News

A bid by the federal government to impose sweeping confidentiality rules on an Arctic science project has run into serious resistance in the United States.

“I’m not signing it,” said Andreas Muenchow, of the University of Delaware, who has taken issue with the wording that Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans department has proposed for the Canada-U.S. project.

It’s an affront to academic freedom and a “potential muzzle,” said Muenchow, who has been collaborating with DFO scientists on the project in the Eastern Arctic since 2003.

DFO’s proposed confidentiality provisions say all technology and “other information” related to the Arctic project “shall be deemed to be confidential and neither party may release any such information to others in any way whatsoever without the prior written authorization of the other party.”

If enforced, Muenchow says  the fisheries department could prevent researchers from publishing scientific findings, blogging about their project or sharing information on the project with the media and public, which is encouraged by the U.S. agencies co-funding the project. Muenchow and DFO scientists involved in the project travel north by icebreaker to deploy and retrieve instruments to assess oceanographic conditions in the ice-choked Nares Strait, which runs between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland and may have a significant effect on ocean circulation.

Muenchow’s problem with the DFO comes amid growing concern and controversy over the Harper government’s micro-management of scientific projects. Continue reading

Top federal bureaucrats using “preapproved’ messages


Published 03/12/2012
Environment Minister Peter Kent

Environment Minister Peter Kent     ~ CP

At first, a top Environment Canada official seemed game to discuss “unmuzzling” government scientists during an international science conference earlier this year.

“I would be very interested in participating,” Karen Dodds, an assistant deputy minister, said by email to colleagues when she received an invitation to sit on a panel aimed at opening the lines of communications between the news media and federal scientists.

Instead, she sat in the audience as a spectator during the session at the Vancouver conference, and was informed she should refer questions about the government’s strict communication policy to Ottawa, where a government “tactics” committee was working on a response, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

The response  –  that Environment Canada is “exemplary”  at responding to media inquiries – was eventually released as a letter to the editor signed by Paul Boothe, then the deputy minister of environment, after it was edited and pre-approved by Environment Minister Peter Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office. The Privy Council Office, or PCO, reports to the prime minister.

The federal government is so involved in supervising messaging that even officials defending its communications policy use lines “preapproved” by their political masters, the documents show. Continue reading

Environment minister “denies” interview with ozone scientist

Peter Kent in Parliament

Peter Kent in Parliament

Published 01/12/2012

Environment Minister Peter Kent has repeatedly said the government does not muzzle its scientists. But Kent’s office stopped David Tarasick, an Environment Canada researcher, from talking to journalists about a report on last year’s unprecedented Arctic ozone hole, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

It’s the latest case uncovered by Postmedia News where ministers’ offices or the Privy Council Office have prevented federal scientists from talking to the media about their science.

The documents also say Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office, which reports to the prime minister, decide when and if Environment Canada scientists are allowed to brief the media about anything from wildlife to water quality.

Last fall, Kent was adamant in the House of Commons that ”we are not muzzling scientists.” And the minister reported to a parliamentary committee in May that “circumstances simply did not work out” to allow Tarasick to give interviews when a study he co-authored on the Arctic ozone hole was published in Nature, a leading science journal. Continue reading