He who controls the media controls the minds of the public. - Noam Chomsky
In some ways, it is very much reminiscent of what occurred during the time of the Soviet Union, when athletic or cultural figures would visit the West, always accompanied by 'escorts' whose ostensible purpose was to act as facilitators and translators, but whose real purpose was to keep a very close eye on their fellow citizens lest they bolt for freedom or say something 'unscripted', thereby causing the homeland some embarrassment. Control of information was paramount.
And ironclad control would seem to be both the guiding model and ethos governing the Harper regime. Already infamous for its war on transparency, about which I have written before, Canada is now ranked 55th in the world for upholding freedom of information, a designation Harper disputes (black is white, freedom is slavery, etc. etc.). Another ongoing international embarrassment and affront to democracy is the muzzling of our scientists. But perhaps a measure of relief from that oppression is possible.
A story appearing in today's Star reveals the following:
Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is being asked to investigate the “muzzling” of Canadian government scientists in a request backed by a 128-page report detailing “systemic efforts” to obstruct access to researchers.
“She is uniquely positioned, and she has the resources and the legal mandate, to get to the bottom of this,” says Chris Tollefson. Tollefson is executive director of the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, which issued the request with the non-partisan Democracy Watch.
And make no mistake about it. This regime is desperate to control the flow of information that is at odds with, among many other things, its current propaganda campaign to convince the world of how environmentally 'progressive' it is. Readers may recall, for example, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's recent trip to Chicago on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline in which he touted Canada’s unmatched environmental record. This was quickly followed up by Oliver's attempt to repudiate Thomas Mulcair's comments in the U.S. about Keystone and the tarsands.
The stakes are indeed high, which may explain the extraordinary lengths to which the 'Canadian Kremlin' is going to censor and control information. The piece in The Star goes on to describe the ease and with which an information request on how climate change is affecting the Arctic and Antarctic was answered by NASA scientists, usually the same day and with offers to talk in person or by phone.
However, the same request to scientists at Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada,
led to apologetic responses that the request would have to be routed through public relations officials. Public relations staff asked for a list of questions in advance, and then set boundaries for what subjects the interview could touch upon. Approval to interview the scientists was given days later. In all cases, a PR staffer asked to listen in on the interviews. (italics mine)
I wish Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre the best of luck in its attempts to break the embargo on unfiltered information through Information Commissioner Legault. Yet I can't help regret that Canada has sunk so low that now the efforts of non-governmental agents are so desperately needed in a country that was once a proud and open democracy.
UPDATE: For those who feel strongly about this government control over information, here is a petition worth considering.