As It Happens

How many bureaucrats does it take to refuse a reporter's request for an interview with a "rock snot" scientist?

Sixteen Environment Canada communications officials wrote 110 pages worth of emails as they discussed and eventually declined a reporter's request for an interview with a scientific expert on "rock snot." What was the big deal?
"Rock snot" on a stone in Vermont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Toby Talbot

Sixteen Environment Canada communications officials wrote 110 pages worth of emails as they discussed and eventually declined a reporter's request for an interview with a scientific expert on "rock snot."

"They wanted written questions from me in advance," Canadian Press reporter Dene Moore tells Carol. "They wanted to write the responses for him. They wanted to approve any responses he wanted to give. Then they wanted everyone in the chain of command to approve those responses ahead of time."

In May, Moore requested an interview with Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist Max Bothwell -- the world's foremost expert on an algae known as "rock snot."

Bothwell had made a scientific breakthrough and had just co-authored and published a report. He'd been allowed to give interviews in the past but not this time. Moore's interview request was denied.

In order to find out how and why, Moore filed a request under the Access to Information Act.

As a journalist, she was familiar with the red tape that stands between Canadian government scientists and the public, but she said she was not expecting what came next. 

"I got back a response that's 110 pages," she said. "It involves 16 different people within the Environment Canada communications branch."

Moore has found one clue as to why her request received such extreme treatment.

"Of all those 110 pages there was only one line in a background briefing that was provided and it said those dreaded words, 'climate change.' I think that is why it turned out to be a 110 page response."

She never did get to speak with the scientist. However, she had more luck with his American co-author. "I got to speak to him within about an hour of making the request."

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