How muzzling places the Harper government in moral hazard

Another case of muzzling at Environment Canada has emerged. Retired water scientist Marley Waiser has come forward to say she was muzzled in 2011 in the aftermath of her discovery of chemical pollutants in Regina's Wascana Creek. The reason? Officials "didn't want to upset the City of Regina".

The pollutants originated from the Regina's "modern" sewage treatment plant. Waiser found that nitrate levels in the river exceeded federal guidelines by more than five times at some locations. Ammonia levels were as much as 25 times above the accepted limit.

This episode provides a clear example of how muzzling scientists places the government in moral hazard. Waiser's silencing was a political act that prevented EC from communicating effectively with the public over legitimate health and safety concerns.

Unfortunately, Canadian government scientists do not have the freedom to speak publicly about scientific matters without fear of reprisals or intimidation. Waiser made clear that earlier she was "reticent to come forward for fear of losing my job."

The policies of the US National Oceanic and Aerospace Administration (NOAA) stand in sharp contrast with those currently in place at EC. NOAA treats unfettered communications by their staff as a matter of scientific integrity. Their official policy states that "NOAA scientists may freely speak to the media and the public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work, including scientific and technical ideas, approaches, findings, and conclusions based on their official work." The prelude to the policy states "Scientific integrity is essential to elevating science to its rightful place in informing government decisions, and more fundamentally, scientific integrity is essential for democracy." We could hardly agree more.