Peter Kent's Office Keeps Quiet About Report Linking Human Activity To Extreme Weather: Document

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Environment Minister Peter Kent responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday June 7, 2012. A memo shows that his office moved to limit media exposure of an environmental report. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Environment Minister Peter Kent responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday June 7, 2012. A memo shows that his office moved to limit media exposure of an environmental report. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A government document reveals that Environment Minister Peter Kent's department tried to limit media exposure of a report linking extreme weather to human activity.

The memo, obtained by Postmedia under the Access to Information Act, was sent to Kent by then-Deputy Minister Paul Boothe and outlines the office's approach to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that took place in Uganda last November.

“A communications plan recommending a low-profile, responsive approach for the 34th session of the IPCC is being prepared," reads the memo. It also says that they were also expecting "higher than usual interest in the report’s findings" from media.

The report in question, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, found that human activity is contributing to climate change on a global level, including increased precipitation, greater disparity between temperature extremes and increasingly common heatwaves.

The released memo comes as Peter Kent announced that Canada is halfway to meeting its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.

Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson told Postmedia's Mike De Souza that a "responsive" approach is typical given that the report was being led by the IPCC. A responsive approach would mean the government would only answer questions if prompted, rather than bringing the topic up on their own.

Some, however, may see this memo as more evidence of a Conservative push to muzzle scientists and their research.

In February, an open letter from a group of science organizations to Stephen Harper blasted the Tories for the "wall" they had put up between scientists, journalists and the public.

"Despite promises that your majority government would follow principles of accountability and transparency, federal scientists in Canada are still not allowed to speak to reporters without the 'consent' of media relations officers," the letter says.

"It's pretty clear that for federal scientists, Ottawa decides now if the researchers can talk, what they can talk about and when they can say it," senior science journalist Margaret Munro, with Postmedia News, told a group gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

In May, Nature, one the world's leading scientific journals, called out Canada's federal government for their ever-tightening grip on science researchers, accusing them of having policies that more closely resembled those in the U.S. under George W. Bush.

Huffington Post Canada blogger David Suzuki says that this approach by the government to environmental research couldn't come at a worse time.

"As global ecosystems decline, and with them our air, water, soil and energy, we face many serious decisions about the fuels we use, the food we eat, how we get around -- perhaps every aspect of the way we live," writes Suzuki.

"We need all the options on the table, and some way of evaluating which ones are credible and will serve us best as a society and as a species. Good science is the best available tool we have to do this."

With files from the Canadian Press

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