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OPINION-JUNE 28, 2011

There is something in the water in British Columbia that the federal government apparently doesn’t want you to know about. And that should worry Canadians.

Information obtained by Postmedia News details how the federal government muzzled a leading fisheries scientist by preventing her from speaking to reporters. This behaviour demonstrates a lack of respect for science by the Conservative government, something that has been an ongoing and real concern. What’s worse, it suggests that the government is not interested in research that doesn’t fit its policy agenda and will take action to marginalize or muzzle those whose findings challenge government policies. If this is not the case, federal officials need to offer a better explanation of why it is necessary to prevent a government scientist from talking to reporters about a discovery that may have significant implications for the future of the West Coast salmon fishery.

Kristi Miller, who heads a salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island, has linked plummeting salmon stocks in British Columbia’s Fraser River to a virus that is found in farmed salmon. She has complained about being kept from a workshop because her managers feared not being able to control the way the disease issue was "construed in the press." She has also been prevented from talking to reporters about her findings, even after her work was published in the prestigious journal Science earlier this year.

The federal government does itself no favours, nor does it help the iconic West Coast salmon stocks, with this kind of political meddling around important work done by taxpayerfunded scientists. It is also demoralizing to other scientists and researchers on whose work numerous government departments depend.

Canada, in recent decades, has seen the collapse of the East Coast cod fishery. At that time, some scientists argued that politics slowed crucial reaction time that might have prevented some of the devastating damage from overfishing.

It is in the public’s interest to know what our scientists are doing, especially when their findings, as in this case, may offer a crucial clue to a serious problem. Canada faces numerous challenges down the road – the effects of climate change prominent among them. Without more evidence that the federal government understands the importance of scientific research in dealing with problems, the public should have no confidence in the government’s ability to solve, or even cope with those problems.

The Conservative government potentially weakened census findings – the backbone of numerous laws and policies – when it began making the long-form census voluntary this year.

Its treatment of one of its leading fisheries biologists reflects a similar, worrisome, disregard for the importance of neutral, scientific facts, unfettered by political spin.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/Spinning+salmon+story/5170002/story.html#ixzz1TPgj3Z6P

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