B.C. Biologist’s Viral Post Captures the Frustration Muzzled Scientists Felt Under Harper

Whether he opposed facts and reason or simply hated the subject in grade nine, Stephen Harper never really cared much for science.

So when he was elected Canada’s Prime Minister in 2006, he turned his personal disdain into federal policy, reducing scientific work to something that required strict government screening before it was to be made public. Researchers were only allowed to discuss their work with journalists pending pre-approval from federal communications officers, essentially “muzzling” them in what the scientific community has called a War on Science.

It was absurd that a government could interfere with public science, much of it funded by taxpayers, and many critics claim the move pushed some of Canada’s brightest minds to pursue their profession abroad.

And it ended last week.

Just two days after his swearing in, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unmuzzled the dialogue between scientists and journalists. As the CBC’s Pauline Dakin writes, “after almost a decade of decreasing access to government ministers and those who work for their departments, it’s a remarkable thing for journalists to contemplate once again getting comments from people who make important decisions.”

Many media professionals are already benefitting from the reversal, but it was one scientist’s reaction to the reversal that was especially striking. A biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, he wrote the following on his Facebook page:

“It is official. At an all staff meeting today with some of the best scientists in the world, certainly the ones who know our coast better than anyone (and I am lucky enough to work for some of them), we were told that it’s ok to talk to the media or anyone about what we do without permission. That’s how surreal it was. That’s how things changed over night.”

I feel like I’m in one of those post-apocalyptic movies where there’s nothing but darkness and sorrow and hard times, and then right at the end of the movie there’s a scene of the sun rising over a new world and it’s like everything just might turn out OK. People, we must never again let our government plunge us into such a fearful, secretive, divisive state.

Powerful stuff. The post was shared by his mother, Jody Paterson, and took off immediately, which she describes as “kind of felt like the time I ate a piece of marijuana-butter cake and started feeling the effects within 15 minutes.”

Anyway, it has since been shared 10,000 times and inspired Jody to write a letter to the Prime Minister, in which she thanks Trudeau for doing what he said he would do and “respect for smart people who care deeply about Canada.”

“I’ve had people tell me they cried when they read that post, and now I’m seeing comments from others who are talking about crying during the swearing-in ceremony, crying on the day after the election,” she told CBC News in a written statement.

Amazing what a difference a day can make.