AAAS session documents problems for Canadian science writers.

Attendees at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science heard from reporters that the Canadian federal government is controlling interviews with government scientists, by scripting answers for them or denying them access to journalists. The session was reported widely by international media.

Before a packed audience, a panel denounced the situation that started in 2008, shortly after Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was first elected. “Things started to change dramatically after that,” said Margaret Munro, a science journalist with Postmedia News service in Vancouver. The symposium, organized by several groups including associations of Canadian science writers and of scientists, has been recorded and is available online.

Ms. Munro was one of the first to report on the issue in Canada three years ago after she obtained a document from Environment Canada outlining changes in government communication policies. The policies now require media requests to be directed to the Privy Council. “This new direction seemed to spread rapidly afterwards to other ministries and departments,” said Ms. Munro, who cited several examples of scientists who have not been allowed to speak to the press.

The best-known case relates to research about wild Pacific salmon and involves Kristi Miller, a scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Dr. Miller had been researching the decline of salmon populations in B.C. The results, published in the journal Science, seemed to suggest that fish might have been exposed to a virus associated with cancer and questioned whether the virus might have been imported from the salmon farming industry. Although she was the lead author on the research published in Science, Dr. Miller was not allowed to speak to the media.

> Continue reading this story in University Affairs.