Newly Released Emails Show how the Harper Government Silences Scientists
On October 21, 2013 I asked a Canadian federal scientist named David Tarasick to talk about ozone depletion for an episode of my radio show, The Terry Project on CiTR. David Tarasick is a somewhat controversial figure in Canada. After he published a landmark paper in Nature, Dr. Tarasick was kept from speaking to the press by Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent. That said, the Terry Project is a campus radio program. Many of our episodes have received less than 100 listens and downloads. It is hardly the sort of show that would frighten serious communications professionals–let alone ministers.
Early in the morning on October 23, Tarasick returned my email: he was happy to talk to me but he needed permission from the media relations people who work at Environment Canada. He added that he didn’t “think they will have a problem with it.”
But by November 14, I still had not spoken to Dr. Tarasick.
Yesterday, Environment Canada released a PDF that shows what Canada’s Media Relations people were up to between October 21st and November 14th. I have only had 24-hours with the document (which is considerably longer than my copy of Why I Write by George Orwell or One Day in the Life of Ivan Densiovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn–to pick a couple books at random) but here’s what stands out as the three big takeaways so far:
17 government employees (plus at least 2 people whose names have been redacted from the record) sent 197 pages of emails working on my request! An additional 10 people were CC’d in the emails. After all of their work I never got an interview with David Tarasick.
It seems like I was going to get my interview until Environment Canada realized I was interested in writing about their history of muzzling Canadian scientists as well as Arctic ozone depletion. Then the interviews went away. On October 25, Danny sent this email (with the subject line “For MO Approval”) to someone with a redacted email address. In it he “strongly reccomends” that I get my interview with Dr. Tarasick.
A couple hours later the mysterious official approves the interview.
Danny calls me but I am TAing a history tutorial and can’t pick up. He emails me and says Dr. Tarasick will speak to me on October 28th or 29th. But then I let the cat out of the bag. I am as interested in government muzzling as much as the ozone.
Danny sends a partially redacted email to the mysterious official. Now he is only offering to respond to my questions in writing.
All of a sudden there are no more interview offers. To this day I have still not spoken with Dr. Tarasick. Eventually Danny sends me some (confounding) written answers to my questions and simply starts to ignore my requests for interviews. On November 12th I gave up and filed an Access to Information Act request to see the emails instead.
The documents are heavily redacted. A number of the emails look like this:
David Tarasick never made it as a guest in our radio program but a scientist named Peter Ross did. In our program Ross claimed–for the first time–that he was fired from the Department of Oceans and Fisheries for political reasons. You can listen to the podcast here: