canada-flagCanadian scientists say the closure of some of the world’s finest environmental libraries by the Harper government is destroying irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital, The Tyee reports. This action by the Harper government fits a larger pattern we have been calling attention to for several years. “Many scientists … compared the government’s concerted attacks on environmental science to the rise of fascism and the total alignment of state and corporate interests in 1930s Europe.”

Here’s some not-so-happy holidays reading:

The Tyee, an independent online magazine that publishes news and commentary not typically covered by Canada’s mainstream media, reports on “What’s Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada’s Science Libraries?” The article, which should be read in full, leads with:

Scientists say the closure of some of the world’s finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

Many collections such as the Maurice Lamontagne Institute Library in Mont-Joli, Québec ended up in dumpsters while others such as Winnipeg’s historic Freshwater Institute library were scavenged by citizens, scientists and local environmental consultants. Others were burned or went to landfills, say scientists.

Furthermore, the government is falsely claiming that vital content is being retained by extensively digitizing material from nine regional libraries that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) whittled down to two. …

Interviews with scientists suggest the repressive atmosphere created by the Harper government, essentially requiring scientists to become anonymous whistleblowers in order to tell the story:

That picture of a taxpayer-funded treasure trove of information laid waste emerges from interviews by The Tyee with half a dozen prominent scientists, many of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear that their funding or other government support could be hurt if their names were connected with the concerns they were eager to share.

Some of the research scientists interviewed questioned the legality of what they saw happening, accusing the Harper government of “libricide.” …

A [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] scientist told The Tyee, “The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order to meet some unknown agenda. No records have been provided with regard to what material has been dumped or the value of this public property. No formal attempt was made to transfer material to libraries of existing academic institutions.”

This action by the Harper government fits a larger pattern we have been calling attention to for several years now. We have witnessed an ongoing repression of climate and environmental science communication by government scientists, along with systematic cutbacks of environmental research and data collection. “Harper’s attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy“, an excellent review and discussion in the May 2013 issue of the Canadian journal Academic Matters, itemized a series of moves by the Harper government to control or prevent the free flow of scientific information across Canada, particularly when that information highlights the undesirable consequences of industrial development. The free flow of information is controlled in two ways: through the muzzling of scientists who might communicate scientific information, and through the elimination of research programs that might participate in the creation of scientific information or evidence. The Tyee reports:

One scientist after another struggled to make sense of the shuttering of libraries devoted to water and fish in a nation that guards the world’s largest coastline and roughly 18 per cent of the world’s surface freshwater. Most saw in the actions a political agenda by the Harper government to reduce the role of government in Canadian society, as well as the use of scientific evidence in making policy. …

Acclaimed Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings, who recently chaired the Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel on the future of marine biodiversity, calls the closures scientifically disastrous and an assault on civil society. …

Hutchings saw the library closures fitting a larger pattern of “fear and insecurity” within the Harper government, “about how to deal with science and knowledge.”

It appears that the issues on which government scientists are subjected to the tightest political control of communications include climate change, the Alberta tar sands, the oil and gas industry, and Arctic wildlife. In other words, issues on which free communication of scientific evidence could pose problems for corporate energy development interests.

The Tyee concludes with these chilling observations, about the Canadian government and its ability to prey upon political passivity and inattentiveness in the Canadian public:

“The other worrying thing is that no one seems to care a great deal about it. There is minimal political cost for doing these things just as there is no political cost to making bad decisions about ocean management.”

Many scientists, including Hutchings and world famous water ecologist David Schindler, compared the government’s concerted attacks on environmental science to the rise of fascism and the total alignment of state and corporate interests in 1930s Europe.

“You look at the rise of certain political parties in the 1930s,” noted Hutchings, “and have to ask how could that happen and how did they adopt such extreme ideologies so quickly, and how could that happen in a democracy today?”

Earlier posts:

Canadian parliament seeks to impose lifetime gag order on employees (December 13, 2013)