Scientists rallied to protest federal cuts to labs in Manitoba and across the country Monday, calling attention to what they say is the erosion of science in Canada.

In a news release, issued by a non-partisan organization calling itself Evidence for Democracy, the scientists say Canada is "experiencing a precipitous deterioration and devaluation of science under the current federal government."

Winnipegger Diane Orihel, who's been at the forefront of the fight for the Experimental Lakes Area, organized the event at the University of Winnipeg over the noon hour. 

She said the protest is not just about the ELA.

"This is far beyond the ELA," she said. "ELA is one needle in the haystack, unfortunately. It has become a flagship issue for this government's anti-science, anti-environment agenda."

Muzzled scientist

Protesters bring out a muzzled scientists to illustrate their frustrations with the federal government. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Orihel said the federal government's withdrawal of funding for the Cereal Research Centre and cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Freshwater Institute hurts Manitoba, too.

"It not only serves national interests, it serves Manitobans' interests," she said.

"And this is affecting the quality of water, the quality of air in Manitoba, the safety of our food. These federal decisions are going to have important impacts here in Manitoba."

The Evidence for Democracy group said it is deeply concerned about three main issues:

  1. Vital scientific institutions and programs are being eliminated, particularly in the realm of basic science and environmental sciences.
  2. Oppressive policies are being imposed on government scientists that restrict their ability to communicate their scientific findings.
  3. Scientific evidence is being blatantly ignored in policy decisions, especially in changes to federal legislation that protect our environment and our health.

Orihel said Canadians need to be aware of what's happening and the federal government needs to realize that science "is not an expendable budget item," she said. "It is vital to keep our country functioning, to keep people healthy."

“Canada has a long and proud tradition of independent science within federal government agencies," added University of Winnipeg biology professor Scott Forbes.

“Since the 1980s these have been systematically dismantled by successive federal governments, a process accelerated in recent years. The public is badly served by these decisions."

In April, 47 science and research jobs disappeared from a federal facility in Winnipeg.

Pamela Godin is taking a graduate degree in science at the University of Manitoba. She said the cuts aren’t fair.

“If there was a balance to the cuts, you know, you can understand economy and all this stuff. There is only so much money. But to cut one area so much -- to completely eliminate a program seems a little excessive,” she said.

“As a scientist I’ve seen these cuts, and it’s made me more passionate. It’s made me more political.”

Orihel said the issues go beyond cuts.

“Federal government scientists are not free to communicate their findings with the public,” she said.

Similar protests were held in 17 other cities across Canada on Tuesday.