July 10, 2012

Canadian Scientists Stage Protests

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing increasing pressure from his country´s scientific community over what the protesters describe as anti-scientific and anti-environmental government policies.

As part of the growing protest movement, Canadian scientists plan to march through the capital city of Ottawa to voice their opposition to what they call a "Death of evidence" being brought about by federal cuts to programs that forced the closure the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Nunavut and the Experimental Lakes Area, a research station that produced vital evidence to help prevent acid rain.

"Scientists are generally not agitators, but this continuous set of decisions has got very many scientists hot under the collar," rally organizer and University of Ottawa ecology professor Scott Findlay told CBC News.

Findlay adds that the scientific community is getting increasingly disturbed by what appears to be an ostensible federal government campaign designed to reduce the ability of federal institutions to collect and publish evidence.

In response, a spokeswoman for Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, said the government remained committed to funding Canadian research.

"Our government has made historic investments in science, technology and research to create jobs, grow our economy, and improve the quality of life for Canadians," she said.

But Canadian government officials also tacitly confirmed scientists' charges that Harper was far more interested in funding research with commercial applications, than funding more academic research.

"As a country we have been lagging behind our peer nations on applied research and commercialization and our government is taking steps to correct that," one official said.

After the budget was released in March, it became clear that there were ℠winners and losers´ with respect to which organization were receiving more federal research funding.

For example, Environment Canada will lose $13.3 million from its $1.1 billion budget this year, and $31.5 million and $53.8 million in the following two years. Meanwhile, the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada was given $67 million specifically for it to refocus on business-driven, industry-relevant research.

At the time, Goodyear said the NRC had begun to “lose its focus”, and that it should prioritize boosting innovation for businesses and linking businesses with federal programs.

"It definitely seems to us these cuts are not just part of fighting the deficit, that there is a systematic attack on science and the preferential cutting of programs that may produce results not in line with the Conservative agenda," march organizer Katie Gibbs from the University of Ottawa told CBC News.

"But we feel that most Canadians regardless of their values or beliefs think that policies should be made based on evidence and based on facts, and that regardless of the decisions that the government decides to make, our democracy depends on an informed public."

After news of the spending cuts and priorities broke, the Canadian scientific community reacted via online protest. Over 500 groups took their websites down for 24 hours last month in protest to the cuts, which they claimed were just a pretext to weaken environmental protections.