Open letter supports fired Alberta park employee, warns of 'deep fear' in civil service

By Edmonton Journal, 23 September 2015

The firing of federal scientists who voice concerns about national parks has instilled a “deep fear” across departments in the civil service, more than 100 former Parks Canada employees warn in an open letter.

The unprecedented missive, released Wednesday and signed by 118 former Parks Canada managers and employees, adds fuel to the controversy about the muzzling of federal scientists by the Harper government.

“As those who dare to speak up on issues related to the ecological integrity of the national parks or the commemorative integrity of the national historic sites, are removed from their positions, a deep fear is instilled to ensure that those remaining toe the party line,” says the letter.

The letter points specifically to the mid-June firing, with no reasons given, of John Wilmshurst, a Jasper Park senior scientist with a 15-year career in Parks Canada.

“The reason for Dr. Wilmshurst’s firing is unknown,” the letter says. “But it appears consistent with the purging of science-based management taking place in the national parks of Canada.” (...)

The muzzling of scientists is part of a bigger issue — the undermining of a scientific approach in assessing the impact of commercial development in parks, said Nik Lopoukhine, retired director general for National Parks Directorate, Parks Canada.

“The issue here is the broader question of scientific staff told not to speak, and environmental policies being eroded,” he said in an interview. (...)

The letter asks the Liberals, New Democrats and Green parties to outline what commitments they are prepared to make “to protect and restore” a scientific approach to protecting the parks and “science capacity” in other federal departments.

The letter also calls for an investigation in to the firing of Wilmshurst and “politically motivated dismissals of scientists and managers” with a view to possible reinstatement. It also urges voters to ask their local candidates about the issue of muzzling scientists. (...)

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Image: JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS

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