Unmuzzled: the need for vocal aquatic scientists in Canada

October 25, 2012(Toronto) – In a functional democracy, the role of the scientific community is to produce knowledge, and it is the role of government to translate this knowledge into effective, evidence-based policy decisions. Unfortunately, policy decisions in Canada under the Harper government tend not to be reflective of the knowledge produced by the scientific community. Yesterday, a panel discussion was held at the University of Toronto to mobilize the aquatic science community to speak out about recent changes in federal environmental laws and cuts to government science programs, such as the world-renown Experimental Lakes Area.

“Environmental scientists have a public duty and moral responsibility to be advocates for the beneficial use of science and protection of the environment”, explained Dr. Ken Minns, Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto, and retired research scientist at Fisheries & Oceans Canada.

“Restrictions in the ability to conduct and report science, in conjunction with the dismantling of Canadian environmental legislation, are short-sighted and will undoubtedly leave a legacy of major environmental problems and costs for future generations”, asserted Dr. Don Jackson, Professor of Ecology at the University of Toronto, and Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences.

Laura Bowman, Lawyer at Iler Campbell LLP, described how the rephrasing of the Fisheries Act has stripped the act of any real legislative power in Canada’s courts. “We no longer have an enforceable permitting regime for aquatic habitat, leaving the public in the dark about damage to aquatic habitat across Canada”.

“I fear that today science in Canada stands to be relegated, at best, to one voice among many, testifying in costly court battles”, said Tony Maas, Freshwater Director of World Wildlife Fund – Canada. “We cannot let this happen. This is not the Canadian way”.

Dr. Norman Yan, Professor of Biology at York University, argued that the Harper government is working to suppress knowledge and reduce the will of environmental managers to do their jobs. “To solve environmental problems requires humility and hope, but our government has little of the former, and is crushing the latter in the environmental arena”.

Yesterday’s discussion panel was organized by Dak de Kerckhove, University of Toronto, and Diane Orihel, University of Alberta. According to Orihel, “Canada is changing in fundamental ways. Now is not a time for apathy. Now is not a time for cowardice. The scientific community has an important role to play in shaping the future of Canada.” De Kerckhove added, “aquatic scientists need to challenge the weak assumptions held by the Harper government to discredit the logic behind dismantling generations of progress in environmental protection”.  A video of the event will be available at saveela.org/videos.

To see more pictures of the discussion panel, click here.