OTTAWA, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Canadian scientists say the country's government is trying to muzzle them, controlling what they say and who they talk to.
Scientists with Natural Resources Canada say they were told this spring they would need "pre-approval" from the office of Minister of Natural Resources Christian Paradis to speak with national and international journalists, Postmedia News reported.
Documents show the rules apply not only to contentious issues but benign subjects, such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago, Postmedia said.
Under the rules, critics say, Canadians are being cut off from scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest on issues like fish stocks, genetically modified crops or mercury pollution in the Athabasca River.
"We have new media interview procedures that require pre-approval of certain types of interview requests by the minister's office," Judy Samoil, NRCan's communications manager, wrote in an e-mail to colleagues.
The policy applies to "high-profile" issues such as "climate change, oilsands" and when "the reporter is with an international or national media organization," she wrote.
The ministry defended the new rules.
"The minister is the primary spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada. As such, he needs to be made aware of issues in the media which involve the department so he can effectively fulfill his role," a statement from the minister's office said.
"It's Orwellian," said Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at University of Victoria.
"The sad reality is that these guys in Ottawa think federal scientists work for them.They don't, they work for the people of Canada," he said.
"This is science funded by Canada for the public good. It is not science funded to produce briefing notes for ministers so they can get elected in the next federal campaign."