Canada's information commissioner has confirmed that her office will investigate allegations that the federal government is muzzling its scientists.

The office of Suzanne Legault has concluded that a complaint made by Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Clinic in February falls within its mandate, wrote Emily McCarthy, assistant information commissioner, in a letter released Monday by Democracy Watch, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that advocates for government accountability.

The letter, dated March 27, added that the office has notified and sent a summary of the complaint to the relevant government institutions:

  • Environment Canada.
  • Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
  • Natural Resources Canada.
  • National Research Council of Canada.
  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
  • Department of National Defence.

Treasury Board included

The letter added, "We have also determined that the Treasury Board Secretariat should be included in your complaint because of its role in relation to the development and implementation of government policies."

Tyler Sommers, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, said in a statement, that the group is "very pleased" about the investigation being called.

"And we will continue to push the information commissioner to get to the bottom of this situation, publicly release the results, and push the federal government to change these policies," he added. 

The complaint, filed on Feb. 20, suggested that federal government policy "forcing scientists to jump through hoops before speaking with the media" breaches the Access to Information Act.

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The office of Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault will be investigating seven government institutions, including Environment Canada and the Treasury Board, over allegations that federal scientists are being muzzled. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The complaint included a 26-page report with 100 pages of appendices, containing details and examples, based on internal government documents previously released through freedom of information requests, along with conversations with current and former federal public servants, journalists, members of non-profit organizations, and professors at Canadian universities.

The federal Access to Information Act requires the Office of the Information Commissioner to investigate "any matter related to obtaining or requesting access to records" from federal institutions.

If, following the investigation, the commissioner finds that the evidence supports the complaint, she will make recommendations to correct the problem or "facilitate a resolution," which typically involves mediation, but can also include a referral to the Federal Court of Canada.