“If people don’t speak out there will never be any change,” says the University of Victoria’s award-winning climate scientist Andrew Weaver.
And the need for change in Canada, says Weaver, has never been more pressing.
“We have a crisis in Canada. That crisis is in terms of the development of information and the need for science to inform decision-making. We have replaced that with an ideological approach to decision-making, the selective use of whatever can be found to justify [policy decisions], and the suppression of scientific voices and science itself in terms of informing the development of that policy.”
When the Harper government announced deep funding cuts to science programs across the country, the Institute of Ocean Sciences, one of Canada's largest marine institutes located in Sidney, B.C., was among those research outfits hurt as a result. Lead research scientist Peter Ross is one of more than one thousand Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) employees who discovered their position had been terminated.
If you ask an Environment Canada media spokesperson about contamination resulting from tar sands operations, they will not tell you the federal government has failed to adequately monitor the mega-project's effects on water.
They most certainly will not say outright that the federal government has failed to monitor the long term or cumulative environmental effects of the world's largest industrial project. They won't say it, but not because it isn't the case.
The tar sands are contaminating hundreds of kilometres of land in northern Alberta with cancer-causing contaminants and neurotoxins.
And although federal scientists have confirmed this, they are prevented from sharing information about their research with the media.
In fact, if a journalist wants to approach a public servant scientist these days, he or she is required to follow the federal ministry's media relations protocol, one which strictly limits the media's access to scientists, sees scientists media trained by communications professionals who coach them on their answers, determine beforehand which questions can be asked or answered, and monitor the interaction to ensure federal employees stay within the preordained parameters.
The result is an overly-monitored process that causes burdensome delays in media-scientist interactions. The overwhelming consequence is that the media has stopped talking to the country's national scientists.
But University of Alberta scientist Dr. David Schindler is ready and willing to pick up the slack, especially after Environment Canada federal scientists recently presented findings that vindicated years of Schindler's contentious research exposing the negative effects of tar sands production on local waterways and aquatic species.
According to Schindler, the rapid expansion of the tar sands is not based on valid science: "Both background studies and environmental impact assessments have been shoddy, and could not really even be called science. This must change," he told DeSmog.
Senior scientist Derek Muir, who presented some of the findings at Wednesday's conference, said the contaminated region is "potentially larger than we might have anticipated." The 'legacy' of chemicals in lake sediment gives evidence that tar sands pollution has been traveling long distances for decades. Samples show the build up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer in humans and to be toxic to aquatic animals, in 6 remote and undisturbed lakes up to 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations.
The pollutants are "petrogenic" in nature, meaning they are petroleum derived, and have steadily and dramatically increased since the 1970s, showing the contaminant levels "seem to parallel the development of the oilsands industry," Muir said.
The Canadian government is working hard behind the scenes to cover up the negative effects that tar sands extraction is having on the local environment, wildlife, communities and the global climate. According to Access to Information documents obtained by Postmedia's Mike De Souza, the Stephen Harper government has actively suppressed the release of vital information regarding the spread of tar sands contamination by muzzling federal scientists.
The government of Canada and the government of Alberta denied the correlation, saying local waterways tested showed no signs of toxic contamination and reports of mutated and cancerous fish downstream from the tar sands were unfounded.