Following newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s defeat of Stephen Harper, who instituted extremely restrictive communications policies that effectively muzzled federal government scientists, a Facebook post from the mother of a biologist from British Columbia has gone viral.
The post, which currently has over 13,000 likes and 9,000 shares, shines a light on the changes taking place under Trudeau’s leadership in regards to control of information and censorship of scientists.
Under Harper’s rule, the government required an approval by the prime minister’s office before federal government scientists could speak with national or international media personnel, and, once given permission, all communications had to be screened by the government communications office for final approval.
Jody Paterson, the mother of a fisheries biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, shared a message from her son in the Facebook post on Friday.
In the post Paterson quoted a status update made by her son on his personal Facebook account, where he announced that he had just learned from his DFO supervisors that the muzzle order on scientists had been lifted.
“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,” the post reads.
A former journalist in B.C. who currently lives in Nicaragua, Paterson says she has been overwhelmed by the response on social media.
In a statement to CBC News, Paterson elaborated, “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 continued, “These are regular people who are not particularly political, and they had been stuffing down their feelings of rage and helplessness for so long that when it was finally over and the Harper government was vanquished, all the emotions flooded out.”
Kristi Miller, a B.C.-based molecular geneticist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, was one of the first scientists to respond publicly following the unmuzzling.
In 2011, Miller was barred from discussing her research into the 2009 Fraser River sockeye salmon collapse.
“When we were banned, it almost made government scientists second-class citizens in the scientific arena,” Miller told CBC News. “It was quite embarrassing.”
The policy change was announced on Friday- just two days after Trudeau and his cabinet were sworn in- by Navdeep Bains, the new minister of innovation, science and economic development.
“Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect,” said Bains in a written statement. “That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public.”
“We are working to make government science fully available to the public and will ensure that scientific analyses are considered in decision making.”