In A\J’s Heroes issue Laura McDonald put Prime Minister Harper on trial for ecocide. Scientists and other commentators are also accusing Harper of ‘libricide’ for the wholesale massacre of numerous world-class federal libraries. The activity has been characterized as a frenzy of knowledge destruction without regard for record keeping or preservation.
For environmentalists, the closures of world-class fishery, ocean and environmental libraries have been shocking and heartbreaking. Andrew Nikiforuk has reported on the destruction of Department of Fisheries and Oceans collections extensively for The Tyee, exploring both the chaotic nature of the destruction and the duplicity of the government’s explanations. Eminent Dalhousie biologist Jeff Hutchings calls the closures an assault on civil society and says that they have nothing to do with saving money. “It must be about ideology. Nothing else fits.”
Indeed, although a DFO website claims to be digitizing the libraries’ content in order to provide greater access to the public, a memo marked ‘secret’ and obtained by the national news agency Postmedia News (bottom of the page, Track 6) seems to indicate otherwise. The only real activity listed for the rationalization of these libraries is “culling materials.” Scientists told The Tyee that DFO’s own numbers show only five per cent of the department’s books have been digitized.
While Fisheries Minister Gail Shea denies widespread reports that books were actually burned – a horrifying prospect reminiscent of Nazi war crimes – persistent reports by scientists in credible mainstream news media (the Globe & Mail, The Tyee and the Huffington Post) reference an unconscionable pillaging of irreplaceable public resources. Much of the material was thrown in dumpsters and landfill or given away to private consultants – one such group reportedly backed a truck up to the closed Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg and filled it with publicly-paid-for science.
The looted documents include historical material more than 100 years old that provide baseline data on freshwater systems and wildlife across Canada. Hutchings and world-acclaimed water scientist David Schindler liken the attack on science to fascism and the merging of state and corporate interests in Europe of the 1930s. Aquatic toxicologist Peter Wells, a public servant at Environment Canada for over 30 years, says that “information destruction and core library closures in Canada is unbelievable, and in my view, undemocratic and probably criminal.”
Unfortunately, the DFO libraries aren’t the only public repositories of knowledge the current federal government is looting under the false claims of efficiency and cost cutting. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has detailed dozens of cuts and closures at federal departmental libraries and launched a “Protect Canada’s Public Libraries” campaign.
The CBC reports that scientists at Health Canada are storing material in their own basements in order to save it from government cuts. When the main HC library was closed, against the advice of a consultant hired to examine the feasibility of closure, the reasoning was that the library wasn’t being used enough to justify its continued existence. HC scientists have objected to this rationale, saying that access had been made almost impossible, thereby discouraging use. Rudi Mueller, a retired HC pathologist, says “If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used.” The DFO website uses the same argument for the closure of its own seven environmental science libraries.
The claims of financial savings are either trivial or spurious. The closing of the seven DFO libraries will save less than $500,000 per year and the budget for Health Canada’s library services has increased even as staff has shrunk and user fees have skyrocketed.
The Harper government’s war on science is now well documented. It is the subject of a 2013 book by Chris Turner and a September editorial in the New York Times. Most extraordinary was a July 2012 demonstration on Parliament Hill consisting of 2,000 scientists – a group not usually known for public outbursts.
The research professionals were objecting to a long list of egregious federal interference in their work – all detailed in McDonald’s feature article. And yet the knowledge destruction continues, eliminating millions of dollars of completely irreplaceable books, reports and other documents, all paid for over many decades by taxpayers’ money. This will have a permanent, negative effect on the collection, understanding and use of scientific evidence for informed decision-making on matters of vital importance to Canadians and Canada’s resident flora and fauna.
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