British Columbia

Kristi Miller, muzzled fisheries scientist, felt like a second-class citizen

A federal edict that prevented government scientists from talking publicly about their work turned them into second-class citizens, says a B.C.-based scientist.

Miller's study into the 2009 Fraser River sockeye salmon collapse was considered a 'bad news story'

Government scientist Kristi Miller was the lead author of an article published in Science in January 2011 that suggested a virus may be linked to premature deaths in migrating sockeye salmon. (Kristi Miller/Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

A federal edict that prevented government scientists from talking publicly about their work turned them into "second-class citizens", a B.C. based molecular geneticist told CBC news Friday.

Kristi Miller, a scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told CBC News Friday that she was excited at news the newly elected federal government had lifted the muzzle from its researchers.

Kristi Miller was prevented from talking to media about the results of her study. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

"We [are now] free to speak to the press without contacting media relations," she said. "And in fact we are encouraged to get back to them quickly."

It's a far cry from 2011, when Miller was shocked to find herself prevented from discussing her research into the 2009 Fraser River sockeye salmon collapse following its publication in Science magazine. 

"I was told at the time that the problem with the study was that it was talking about dying salmon, and that wasn't a positive news story," Miller said.

She eventually discovered that the decision to stop her talking came from the top — directly from the prime minister's office. She was only allowed to talk publicly about her work in response to questions while testifying at the Cohen Commission Inquiry.

"That whole decision really backfired on the government, and I was really surprised they never reversed it. I think that my paper, for good or for bad, got more press because I wasn't allowed to speak. I don't believe I have ever been interviewed about that paper."

She says the oppressive regime led to many scientists quitting.

"I think that there has been a general exodus — and I was one of the people who thought about leaving."

The news that they are now able to speak freely about their work has, Miller says, lifted the spirits of everyone at Fisheries and Oceans..

"When we were banned, it almost made government scientists second-class citizens in the scientific arena," she said. "It was quite embarrassing. I really felt like a second-class citizen."

With files from Greg Rasmussen


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