Archive for the 'Canadian war on science' category

My remarks at the Toronto March for Science

Many thanks to the organizers of this past weekend's March on Science here in Toronto. They invited me to be part of the amazing roster of speakers for the event. I was honoured to take part and offer some of the lessons I've learned in the course of my various listing projects over the last number of years, especially the epic chronology of the Harper years.

There's a nice video summary here and a CTV News report where I'm interviewed here. A couple of additional media stories are here and here and here.

My fellow presenters were Master of Ceremonies Rupinder Brar and speakers Dawn Martin-Hill, Josh Matlow, Tanya Harrison, Chelsea Rochman, Aadita Chaudhury, Eden Hennessey and Cody Looking Horse.

Here's what I had to say:

Hi, my name is John and I’m a librarian. My librarian superpower is making lists, checking them twice and seeing who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. The nice ones are all of you out here marching for science. And the naughty ones are the ones out there that are attacking science and the environment.

Now I’ve been in the list-making business for quite a few years, making an awful lot of lists of how governments have attacked or ignored science. I did a lot of work making lists about the Harper government and their war on science. The nicest thing I’ve ever seen written about my strange little obsession was in The Guardian.

Here’s what they said, in an article titled, How science helped to swing the Canadian election.

“Things got so bad that scientists and their supporters took to the streets. They demonstrated in Ottawa. They formed an organization, Evidence for Democracy, to bring push back on political interference in science. Awareness-raising forums were held at campuses throughout Canada. And the onslaught on science was painstakingly documented, which tends to happen when you go after librarians.”

Yeah, watch out. Don’t go after libraries and librarians. The Harper govt learned its lesson. And we learned a lesson too. And that lesson was that keeping track of things, that painstakingly documenting all the apparently disconnected little bits and pieces of policies here, regulations changed there and a budget snipped somewhere else, it all adds up.

What before had seemed random and disconnected is suddenly a coherent story. All the dots are connected and everybody can see what’s happened. By telling the whole story, by laying it all out there for everyone to see, it’s suddenly easier for all of us to point to the list and to hold the government of the day accountable. That’s the lesson learned from making lists.

Let’s travel back in time to the spring of 2013…..

And as an aside, when I say government of the day, I do mean “of the day.” Back when I started my listing project, I was under no illusion that the previous Chretien/Martin regime was perfect when it came to science. They had their share of budget cuts and muzzling and all the rest.

But back in 2013 what I saw the government doing wasn’t the run of the mill anti-science that we’d seen before. Prime Minister Harper’s long standing stated desire to make Canada a global energy superpower revealed the underlying motivation but it was the endless litany of program cuts, census cancellation, science library closures, regulatory changes and muzzling of government scientists that made up the action plan. But was it really a concerted action plan or was it a disconnected series of small changes that were really no big deal or just a little different from normal?

That’s where making lists comes in handy. If you’re keeping track, then, yeah, you see the plan. You see the mission, you see the goals, you see the strategy, you see the tactics. You see that the government was trying to be sneaky and stealthy and incremental and “normal” but that there was a revolution in the making. An anti-science revolution.

Fast forward to now, April 2017, and what do we see? The same game plan repeated, the same anti-science revolution under way. Only this time not so stealthy. Instead of a steady drip, it’s a fire hose. Message control at the National Parks Service, climate change denial, slashing budgets and shutting down programs at the EPA and other vital agencies. Incompetent agency directors that don’t understand the mission of their agencies or who even want to destroy them completely.

Once again, we are called to document, document, document. Tell the stories, mobilize science supporters and hold the governments accountable at the ballot box. Hey, like the Guardian said, if we did it in Canada, maybe that game plan can be repeated too.

I invited my three government reps here to the march today, Rob Oliphant, Josh Matlow and Eric Hoskins and I invited them to march with me so we could talk about how evidence should inform public policy. Josh, of course, is up here on the podium with me. As for Rob Oliphant from the Federal Liberals and Eric Hoskins from the Ontario Liberals, well, let’s just say they never answered my tweets.

Keep track, tell the story, hold all of them from every party accountable. The lesson we learned here in Canada was that science can be a decisive issue. Real facts can mobilise people to vote against alternative facts.

Thank you.

2 responses so far

The Trump War on Science: What Can the US Learn From Canada's Experience?

Sarah Boon's post yesterday, The War on Science: Can the US Learn From Canada?, is an excellent answer to a very popular topic on Twitter yesterday. With the Trump government seemingly determined to roll back decades of environmental protections and at the same time make sure no body in government talks about it, everyone wants to know what advice the Canadian science community might have for our cousins to the south.

Read Sarah's post to for an excellent first answer to that question.

In the four days since Trump’s inauguration, however, it has become increasingly clear that Trump is declaring war on science, and that his war will be much more widespread and insidious than we might have expected – and worse than what we saw in Canada. Canadian scientists are working with their American colleagues to archive as much online science data as possible, as there’s a very real threat that it will be removed without a trace. The Trump transition team requested a list of employees in the Energy Department who work on climate change issues – a request which was, thankfully, rejected. Trump has signed an executive order freezing hiring across all government departments, which will impact scientists. He’s also put in place a restrictive communications policy that stops federal employees – including scientists – from even talking to members of Congress (though Badlands National Park went rogue this morning, tweeting climate science facts until they were deleted. Though I have to add – they’ve now created a resistance Twitter account: @altUSNatParkSer!). The EPA has put a freeze on all grants and other funding vehicles, and the CDC has abruptly cancelled a long-planned conference on climate change and human health.

Sarah points to a number of fantastic resources for concrete strategies and actions.

I've begun my own chronology of the anti-science activities of the Trump government, with more updates and posts in the coming days and weeks.

4 responses so far

Presentation: The Conservative War on Science: What's a Librarian to Do?

Just a quick post to get a recent set of presentation slides up here on the blog.

Earlier this week a colleague in the Science and Technologies Studies program here at York hosted me in her fourth year undergraduate seminar class. Rather than my accustomed and normal role of librarian (I happen to be the STS liaison librarian at the moment), I was invited to appear as seminar subject. In other words, she wanted me to talk about my long history of science policy advocacy and activism and a little about how I feel about the current Canadian government.

Which I sort of did, I guess. I also ended up talking about how I view activism in an academic research context, which of course, lead me to talk a little about the implications of altmetrics in a "publish or perish" academic environment.

Of course, there's a surprise ending, but I'll leave that to you to discover in the slides. By the way, it might seem that there are a lot of slides, but most of them are really quite brief.


2 responses so far

Get your climate change data here: A big list of climate change data sources & repositories

We have a Steacie Library Hackfest coming up and our there this year is Making a Difference with Data. And what better area to make a difference in than the environment and climate change?

I am far from an expert on this topic, so suggestions for additions (and deletions if I've added anything inappropriate) are welcome. In particular, deeper and more complete data sources for Canada would be nice to have. I would also very much like to improve coverage beyond the North American focus with a wider variety of targeted regional and national data sources.

This set of lists is not meant to be complete or comprehensive.

Directories of Data Sources & Repositories


Data Sources -- Canada


Data Sources -- USA


Data Sources -- International


Data Sources -- Various Individual Countries/Regions


General Data Repositories

2 responses so far

Science in Canada: Some advice for a new Chief Science Officer

As I've extensively chronicled, Canadian government science had some pretty rough years under the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But Canada has a new government, a new prime minister in Justin Trudeau and a new cabinet. Kirsty Duncan, an actual scientist who worked on the IPPC, has been appointed Science Minister. Come to think of it, we have a Science Minister.

The roster of ministers in other science and technology-related portfolios is also very strong. Navdeep Singh Bains at Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Lawrence MacAulay at Agriculture and Agri-Food. Jane Philpott at Health. Marc Garneau at Transport. Jim Carr at Natural Resources. Hunter Tootoo at Fisheries and Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard. Catherine McKenna at Environment and Climate Change. And yes, we have a Minister of Climate Change. And Mélanie Joly at Heritage, in charge of Libraries and Archives Canada.

If there was ever a time to stake a claim to the time and effort and political capital of this new government, it has to be now. Strike while the iron is hot, before the inertia sets in. Wait too long to ask for what you want, and it'll be too late. All the resources will already be committed.

Public interest science was one of the areas hardest hit during the Harper years and it's pretty obvious the kinds of things that the new government should tackle in the few year or two of its mandate.

Some things are obvious.

  • Stop the egregious and unnecessary muzzling of government scientists in cases where they want to speak publicly about the results of their scientific work.
  • Where possible, restore environmental regulations that have been gutted such as the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Species at Risk Act.
  • Where possible, restore research programs that have been shuttered or have seen their budgets radically cut.
  • Remove at least some of the mania for tying anything to do with public science to industry partnerships, in particular where it relates to the misguided transformation of the National Research Council into a concierge service for business.

And there has been no shortage of people in the media and various stakeholder groups making recommendations to Prime Minister Trudeau concerning what he should do about Canadian science as he takes office. And most of those included the items I mention above.

What hasn't really appeared on any of the lists I've seen is fixing the damage that the previous Conservative government did to the science library infrastructure in Canada, most prominently to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library system but also to the systems at Environment Canada and others.

While those libraries were being closed and consolidated, we were assured that the collections were properly merged and weeded, that new scanning and document delivery procedures were being implemented that would effectively replace the local staff and collections and that researchers would see no difference in the level of service. The Federal government did announce an extensive re-visioning of it's science library infrastructure. Which looks good on paper.

But it's safe to say that basically no one believed the Conservatives were up to the challenge of doing a good job of this. All the evidence that we were able to see indicated that the merging and consolidation of collections was rushed, haphazard and devoid of planning at best and willfully destructive at worst. As far as I can tell, we have nothing but the previous government's word that the scanning and document delivery services that were rushed into the breach are anywhere near sufficient. Nor did we see real evidence that they were truly committed to the revisioning.

One of the things that the Liberals promised in their platform was to appoint a Chief Science Officer.

We will value science and treat scientists with respect.

We will appoint a Chief Science Officer who will ensure that government science
is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their
work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes

The CSO hasn't been appointed yet, but I see no reason why we should all start thinking about what that new person should set their sights on when they start.

I propose that the new Chief Science Officer, in collaboration with the Minister of Science, the Minister of Heritage and all the rest of the science-related Ministers convene a special advisory panel to take a look at what's left of Canada's science library infrastructure and make any recommendations that are necessary to restore the collections and service levels to what Canada's Federal government scientists (and all Canadians) need and deserve while the proposed revisioning takes place. At least fifty percent of the membership of this panel should probably consist of librarians and other stakeholders that currently employed by the Federal Government in any capacity. I also believe that this advisory panel should remain in place as a steering committee for the revisioning of the new Federal Science Library.

At the end of the day, the collections have been dispersed, the staff laid off and the physical spaces repurposed. So much of the damage that was done cannot be repaired.

I should be clear that I don't think the function of this group should be to point fingers or assign blame or rehash past mistakes. It should be forward-looking and patron-focused, with a mission to make sure patrons have the services and collections they need in the short, medium and long term.

6 responses so far

Friday Fun: Using my librarian superpowers for good rather than evil

As you can all imagine, I'm quite pleased to see the backside of the Harper government on their way out the door. Of course, the Liberals have promised a lot but only time will tell how serious they are about fixing the science-related stuff that they've promised to fix. I'll definitely be watching that and keeping track here on the blog somehow somewhere.

That being said, I was quite gratified that my various pro-science advocacy efforts in general and my war on science chronology post in particular were quite popular and widely used during the election campaign.

Obviously all the things that I've done advocating for science- and evidence-based decision-making in Canada, I did them because I thought they were important and useful things to do, not because I wanted to be congratulated or celebrated for them. That doesn't make me any less happy and proud to be congratulated and celebrated for these things, of course.

So in the spirit of Friday Fun, I though I'd share some of the congratulation and celebrations with you, my readers.

Starting with this astoundingly wonderful linking to my post from this article in the Guardian: How science helped to swing the Canadian election. Yes, the Guardian.

Things got so bad that scientists and their supporters took to the streets. They demonstrated in Ottawa. They formed an organization, Evidence for Democracy, to bring push back on political interference in science. Awareness-raising forums were held at campuses throughout Canada. And the onslaught on science was painstakingly documented, which tends to happen when you go after librarians.

How cool is that!

And there was a fair bit of very kind reaction on Twitter too, a bit of which I'm including below.

And continuing with the article I did just before the election in Metro News, Canadian government approach to science reads like satire, which was also very well received on Twitter, a sampling of which is below.

With this tweet in particular being one of my favourite in the post-election period:

Apologies for all the self-back-patting, but sometimes a guy just can't resist.

One response so far

The Science Integrity Project and the Statement of Principles for Sound Decision Making in Canada

Though not explicitly tied to our current federal election campaign, the début this week of the Science Integrity Project and the publishing of their Statement of Principles for Sound Decision Making in Canada just as the campaign heats up is surely not coincidental.

In any case, election or not, this is a wonderful initiative and I support it wholeheartedly. There's lots of background on their website about the process for coming up with the principles, an FAQ and a few examples of how the principles work in practice.

From their website:

Welcome to the Science Integrity Project. Our project reflects the collective wisdom of 75 leaders — in science, indigenous knowledge, public policy, civil society, and governance — who are concerned about the erosion of an evidence-based approach to public policy decision-making in Canada.

Why SIP:
The Science Integrity Project was created in response to growing concerns [1] that many public policy decisions made in Canada — and in its cities, provinces and territories — are not consistently supported by solid information derived from the best available evidence — from science and indigenous knowledge.

What is SIP:
Through a series of in-depth interviews and a national forum, we developed principles for improved decision making on the basis of the best available evidence.

We call upon all Canadians, acting individually and collectively, to embrace and apply the principles for evidence-based decision-making. We invite decision makers at all levels to adopt these principles as an enduring standard for public policy development in Canada. We invite scientists, knowledge holders, and research communities to take this commitment a step further by speaking out for science integrity and the use of your research and knowledge in the development of good public policy.


There's a media release that fills in a few more details about the project. And the principles themselves:

Statement Of Principles For Sound Decision-Making In Canada

The Science Integrity Project
There is growing public concern that policy decisions in jurisdictions across Canada are being made without the support of relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information [1]. The Science Integrity Project – a 2-year initiative involving nearly 75 diverse, influential, and experienced thinkers and practitioners nationwide – is an inclusive, constructive, and non-partisan effort aimed at improving the use of evidence in decision making at all levels of government in Canada. The project held a national forum in February 2015 to discuss foundational principles for the generation and use of evidence in decision-making in Canada. This Statement is the product of their work.

The Case For Evidence-Based Decision-Making
Strong public policies, built on the foundations of evidence and analysis, ensure better outcomes for Canadians, increase government accountability and transparency, and improve our democracy. Canadians expect their representatives to seek, consider, and use rigorous, widely sourced evidence to inform decisions. Such evidence may take many forms, including:

  • Science in its broadest sense, including the body of knowledge resulting from experiments, systematic observations, statistical data collection and analysis, theory and modeling, and including information from a range of fields in the physical and biological sciences, social sciences, health sciences and engineering; and,
  • Indigenous knowledge, the body of knowledge that is the result of intellectual activity and insight gained in a traditional context and adapted over time to modern situations, and which includes the methods, skills, practices, and knowledge contained in codified knowledge systems passed between generations. [2]

Principles for Evidence-based Decision-making
We call upon all Canadians, acting individually and collectively, to embrace and apply the following principles for evidence-based decision-making. These principles are both ambitious and achievable. Real-world applications exist in many Canadian jurisdictions and have been implemented in countries around the world with great success. We believe the robust implementation of these principles will result in a stronger Canada.

Principle 1
The best available evidence – produced by methods that are transparent, rigorous, and conducted with integrity[3] – should always inform decision-making in Canada.

Principle 2
Information should be openly exchanged among scientific researchers, Indigenous knowledge holders, decision makers, and the public[4].

Principle 3
Research results should be preserved, protected, interpreted and shared in a way that is broadly
understandable and accessible.

Principle 4
Decision-making processes, and the manner in which evidence informs them, should be transparent and routinely evaluated.

1. E.g., Professional Institute of the Public Service in Canada (2013); Voices-Voix Coalition (2015)

2. There are many definitions of indigenous knowledge; we use one adapted from the World Intellectual Property Organization

3. By “integrity” in the use of science and Indigenous knowledge, we mean that public policies are built upon the best available, most relevant knowledge resources and that the transfer and use of knowledge in policy and decision-making is transparent. Integrity in the use of knowledge
in policy-making also requires integrity in the production of knowledge, that is, adhering to professional, ethical, and disciplinary standards in the production of scientific knowledge and codified cultural standards in the production of Indigenous knowledge.

4. Except in rare cases of demonstrated concern regarding privacy and security. For an overview of open access principles see “Concepts of Openness and Open Access” (UNESCO 2015

One response so far

Canadian Federal Election: If there were a science debate, what would I ask?

Aug 21 2015 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, Politics

Katie Gibbs and Alana Westwood of Evidence for Democracy wrote a terrific piece in The Toronto Star a little while ago, We need a national debate on science: A question about science policy has never been asked at a federal leaders’ debate. Now more than ever that has to change.

Given the clear importance of science in our lives, why has a question about science policy never — not once — been asked in a federal leaders’ debate?


Perhaps it’s time for another first: a debate about the state and future of Canadian science. Once a world-leader in scientific research, recent decisions have eroded our science capacity and our international scientific reputation. It’s estimated that up to 5,000 federal scientists have lost their jobs, and over 250 research and monitoring programs and institutions have been closed. Our recently launched website called True North Smart and Free, documents dozens of examples of funding cuts to science, government scientists being silenced and policy decisions that ignore the best available evidence. This is essential public-interest science needed to protect Canadian’s health and safety, from food inspection to monitoring toxic chemicals in water.

I've chronicled the devastation that the current Conservative government has wrought on Canadian public science quite a bit over the last few years. Evidence for Democracy has recently published a terrific new site, True North Smart and Free that beautifully highlights what's gone on, telling a number of very compelling stories in significant depth. I've even started a post where I'm tracking the conversation that is happening around science during the election.

And it's an amazing and appalling roster of research funding cut or bound to industry partnerships, departmental budgets slashed, lab closures, library closures, scientists muzzled and fired, environmental deregulation, oil industry pandering, insults, harassment, demonization and much more. The toll is quite remarkable for a mere 10 years, with most in the last four since the Conservative majority. What took generations to build only took a few short years to disassemble.

So if a science debate did happen to take place among the major party leaders -- Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Harper, Elizabeth May, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau -- what would I ask them?

Canadian science has been devastated over the course of the last decade, from research twisted to meet industry needs, labs closed, scientists muzzled or fired, and environmental regulations scrapped to favour industry. And that's just a small part of the damage to evidence-based decision-making.

If you are Prime Minister after October 19, what would be your short, medium and long-term plan to restore Canadian government and publicly-funded science to what it was before and even to take it in new directions and reach for new heights.

Of course, it's not hard to imagine how Prime Minister Stephen Harper would answer the question. But I would be really interested to hear what the others have to say. Even if answers were forthcoming from the various parties' science and technology critics, that would be great too.

It's also not hard to imagine how an entire two-hour debate among the opposition leaders could essentially revolve around nothing but answering that question, teased apart into a bunch of mini-questions about the various kinds of damage done over the last decade to evidence-based decision-making about the environment, public health, demographics and so much more. Let's keep our fingers crossed that science will be an important part of one of the remaining debates or that even we could get a completely science-focused debate.

How could my question be reframed or reworded to make it more effective?

What question would you ask?

6 responses so far

The Canadian War on Science: Science, the Environment and Public Health in the 2015 Canadian Federal Election

It has begun.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called an election for October 19, 2015, kicking off a marathon 11 week election campaign. The longest campaign since the 1870s, believe it or not.

My patient readers may have noticed that over the last few years I've posted quite a bit about how science has fared under the current government. Readers will have gathered that I'm not too pleased about that state of affairs. This election signals an opportunity to (hopefully) change direction; if it's not completely possible to undo all the damage that Harper has done, we can at least hope to stop the bleeding and maybe fix up as much of the destruction as possible.

My small part in all this will be to help the Canadian electorate follow how science, the environment and public health is being discussed both leading up to the election and during the election itself. No doubt many others will also be doing similar things, and I'll be happy to point to them here, but I'll be dedicating myself to this task over the coming weeks.

My methodology will be similar to the one I've employed before when tracking current issues on this blog. A master post with a rough chronology of what I've found, updated periodically as the story develops.

I'll be flagging issues mostly concerned with science/engineering/technology research funding, the state of government science and scientists and all issues related to the environment. I'll also be flagging stuff on public health issues. Here I'll be concentrating on issues around public health research funding and policies rather than the funding and structure of our public healthcare system. While that's an interesting area, I've always treated it as out-of-scope for my list-making and will continue to do so. The line between the structure and funding of the healthcare system and how evidence is used in constructing public health policy can be a bit fuzzy sometimes, so I may end up erring on the side of including edge cases rather than excluding them.

As mentioned, I do plan to update this post periodically, probably about once per week during the campaign.

Most of the items I plan to collect here -- and I'm not attempting to be complete, only broadly representative of what's been published -- will be from during the campaign itself. I will however include some from before the campaign starts as well as probably some from after the election itself. For example, the initial post here will by necessity not have much from during the campaign itself.

I will also be posting some of the items here in my Tracking the Canadian War on Science tumblr blog, especially as they apply to the broader issues at play. In fact, those items here will probably be posted on the tumblr first.

As a reminder, my master War on Science chronology post is here: The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment. The relevant blog posts here on this blog can be found here.




Campaigns, Debates, etc.


Only the Green Party seems to have released a real election platform document that I could find. I'll keep a lookout for those as the campaign rolls on. If I've missed one of the other party's platform document, please let me know. I've included some summaries I've found elsewhere for the others.

The Platforms


The Campaign


With any luck, the Conservatives will lose the coming election handily and I can re-orient my weird list-making mania towards something more enjoyable.

This list is just a start towards documenting the election conversation about science-related topics. As usual, if I've missed anything important or if I've made any errors, please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. If you don't want to use my work email, you can reach me at dupuisj at gmail dot com.


2015.08.10. Updates up to August 9th. Some retrospective ones added.
2015.08.17. Updates to August 16th. I'm only covering the Linda McQuaig/"Leave the oilsands in the ground" issue fairly lightly. It's important, but the volume of commentary risks overwhelming everything else. Separate list post maybe? I'm considering it.
2015.08.24. Updates to August 23rd.
2015.09.04. Updates to September 4th.
2015.09.20. Updates to September 19th. Added a few stragglers too. I also split out some of the "General" items into a new category devoted science-themed debates as well as to various anti-Harper campaigns or movements.
2015.10.07. Updates to October 7th. Added a few more stragglers. I also added the YouTube recordings of the two science debates, the French one in Sherbrooke and the English one in Victoria. These are well worth watching.

4 responses so far

The Canadian War on Friday Fun: Government of Canada pledges $30 million to ignoring science

In the Late Harper period of Canadian politics it's getting harder and harder to tell the difference between satire and legitimate news stories.

Here's a couple of examples of satire followed by one that's even scarier and more disturbing because it's an actual news story. We live in interesting times. Fortunately there's a election coming up...

Honestly, few of the serious critiques of the Harper government's war on science, evidence and civil society ring as true as these two satirical takes. This is definitely in the Stewart/Colbert mode of so funny it hurts.

Government of Canada pledges $30 million to ignoring science

OTTAWA (The News Desk) — In what observers are calling a cynical attempt to score political points with the Conservative base, the Harper government announced an infusion of more than $30 million into its efforts to ignore science on Monday.

“This is clearly pandering to critics of the scientific method,” said NDP science critic Rene Prefontaine, referring to the title of the press release circulated by the office of the prime minister earlier today, “The Scientific Method: In Over Its Head.”

In the press release, the government promises new funding to purpose-built departments devoted to misunderstanding, misrepresenting or altogether lying about science to the public.

And on a related satirical note...

Feeling dead on the inside now a requirement for federal government jobs

Feeling dead on the inside will be added into the the standard public servant tests, reflected in questions like: ‘On a scale of 1-5, one being the least and five being the greatest, how worthless do you feel?’ and 'how frequently do wish you had another career?'

According to sources, Clement decreed that all public servants must now wear ball gags 24 hours a day to prevent any information leaks or expressions of creativity.

And to prove that truth still has something to teach satire in terms of jaw-dropping disgusted absurdity, here's a recent real news story.

At one federal department, office pals are risky business: Natural Resources Canada’s new code-of-conduct rules assign staff a colour-coded ‘risk’ level. And if you have work pals, or are a professor, watch out.

Last month, employees of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) were asked to fill out and sign a confidential conflict-of-interest document, part of a new code-of-conduct protocol that includes a mandatory training session and meeting with a manager. In itself, this is not unusual. Employers routinely require staff to disclose potential conflicts—financial or personal—that could compromise their ability to do their jobs.

What makes the 17-page “Employee Confidentiality Report” obtained by Maclean’s unique is that it classifies the civil servants’ behaviours—both on and off the job—by “categories of risk”: Red signals “high risk” of conflict of interest, yellow “moderate risk” and green “low or no risk.” The colour-coded model mirrors the terrorism threat-advisory scale created by U.S. Homeland Security after 9/11—except that the threat levels here apply to civil servants, many of them scientists, working for a federal department that oversees Canada’s earth sciences, minerals and metals, forests and energy, and identifies its vision as: “Improving the quality of life of Canadians by creating a sustainable resource advantage.”


The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the union that represents professionals in the Canadian public service, including research scientists at NRCan, has seen conflict-of-interest forms implemented everywhere, but never in such detail, says Laurie Wichers-Schreur, manager of classification and research at PIPSC. “You generally sign off on a general conflict-of-interest statement; if it appeared you were involved in anything that could be construed as conflict of interest, they submitted you to a second form similar to this one,” she says. “In years gone by, it was more focused on sideline businesses; now it’s more focused on political activity.”

No responses yet

Older posts »