Scientists in Fredericton left their labs on Monday as part of a nationwide protest over the Harper government's policies on and cuts to scientific research.

Organizers of the Stand Up for Science demonstrations contend the cuts are putting Canada's environmental health in jeopardy.

Matthew Abbott, a member of the Save Ocean Science committee in St. Andrews, says good environmental decisions are based on good research, but that is slowly disappearing due to cuts.

"If we don't have that core science being done in the public interest, not by a given interest group or another, we can't  have that discussion and come to good decisions," he said.

Bill Ayre, a retired biologist, who worked for the New Brunswick government's Department of Environment Department for more than two decades, was among the estimated two dozen people who attended the downtown Fredericton rally, holding placards with messages such as: Let Science Speak.

Bill Ayre

Retired biologist Bill Ayre, who worked for the New Brunswick Department of Environment for more than two decades, was among those who attended the Stand Up for Science rally in Fredericton on Monday. (CBC)

"I believe in science-driven policy and what I am seeing in Canada doesn't reflect that," he said.

Ayre believes the federal government is wrongly muzzling scientists in what they can say directly to the public about their findings.

"They've put a lot of effort into their work, and in many cases the government has paid for much of it. And the people out there are paying for it and then they can't hear what these people are trying to get out to them. And some of this stuff, some of the information could be critical, such as ozone work on the ozone layer."

Jeff Clements, a PhD student in biology at the University of New Brunswick, is also worried the government is limiting what scientists can say publicly.

"If you think about something that was put in water that could potentially harm you if you drank the water, wouldn't you want to hear about that directly from the scientists themselves in terms that you can understand, rather that going to try to find a scientific publication, decipher the language in the scientific publication, et cetera?

'This is really about us wanting to make sure publicly-funded science in Canada is made available to public. They need to know what’s going on.' - Jeff Clements, PhD biology student

"This is really about us wanting to make sure publicly-funded science in Canada is made available to public. They need to know what’s going on," he said.

Other concerns include cuts to important scientific institutions and a shift in funding toward research that has  commercial possibilities.

Last year, hundreds of scientists converged on Parliament Hill to "mourn the death of evidence."

This year, Stand Up for Science events were held in 17 cities across the country over cuts to Environment Canada, the National Research Council and the biological station in St. Andrews, which includes a team that responds to oil and pesticide spills.

Government claims unprecedented support of science

The non-profit science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, which held the events, called on the federal government to:

  • Fund all scientific research, from basic to applied.

  • Use the best available science and evidence to make decisions.

  • Support the open communication of publicly funded science to the public, “unless there are demonstrably good reasons for not doing so.”

The federal government has repeatedly said through its ministers that it has provided unprecedented support for science, investing $8 billion in research and development since taking office in 2006.

It also insists that the government’s priority is getting independent science into the public domain, that its scientists are available for interviews (although journalists complain that the approval of interviews often comes days or weeks too late for media deadlines), and even scientists who aren’t available for interviews can communicate their research to the public through channels such as scientific publications.