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‘It’s a new world’: Government scientists told they can speak freely to media

Scientists rally
Scientists rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, September 16, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Trudeau government has officially decreed that federal scientists can once again speak freely with the media.

Government scientists who spoke with Global News Friday, hours before the feds released an official statement on the matter, said there is a definite feeling of change in the air.

“It was communicated to us verbally by senior management that, effective immediately, scientists, in situations, could talk to the media like at conferences or workshops without going through Communications,” said Alain Vezina, regional director of science for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO). The institute is part of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, formerly known as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The Harper government came under heavy fire for its perceived “muzzling” of its federal  scientists, which made it nearly impossible for them to speak freely to the media.

READ MORE: Scientists hopeful about Liberal ‘unmuzzling,’ but warn could take time

During the Harper government, Vezina said scientists were required to seek approval to speak with the media. It was made clear that this was no longer the case under the new Trudeau Liberal government.

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In a statement released Friday evening, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said the Liberal government values science, and pledges to treat scientists with respect.

“That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public,” Bains said.

“We are working to make government science fully available to the public and will ensure that scientific analyses are considered in decision making.”

WATCH: Former DFO scientist explains why researchers feel the government is ‘muzzling’ them

After receiving the news, Vezina said that he wanted to ensure that scientists at the institute knew that it would be much easier to speak about their work. Some scientists, knowing the process involved in speaking with the media, didn’t want to even take part, he said.

“Because of the approbation and media lines, some scientists didn’t want to do it.”

READ MORE: What scientists being ‘muzzled’ looks like in the real world

And after hearing the news?

“I think it was well-received,” Vezina said, laughing.

That being said, scientists — or anyone speaking with the media — would still have to report back, he said. But that isn’t anything unusual.

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While Vezina said that this news has been welcomed, the future of how communication will work between scientists and the public isn’t yet clear. But at least it’s a step.

“We’ll see how it goes. It’s a new world.”