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Thousands of scientists hold mock funeral in Canada to highlight nation’s “death of evidence”

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The tar sands as seen from Google Earth near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Carrying signs that said ‘Stop Harper’s War on Knowledge’ and ‘Scientists Shouldn’t Wear a Muzzle,’ Canada’s scientists were unusually theatrical yesterday at a rally against the Canadian government’s cuts for basic science funding and environmental protections. Scientists, dressed in white coats, carried a coffin to represent “the death of evidence” in Canada, while a costumed grim-reaper led the way. According to police, around 2,000 joined in the protest.

“Scientists are generally not agitators, but this continuous set of decisions [by the Canadian government] has got very many scientists hot under the collar,” Scott Findlay, a rally organizer and ecology researcher with the University of Ottawa, told the CBC yesterday.

Scientists have expressed dismay over massive cuts to government agencies like Environment Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In addition, the government has announced it is closing down the Experimental Lakes Area, a well-known 44-year-old research facility that looked at environmental issues from acid rain to mercury pollution. The government is also shuttering the Polar Environmental Atmosphere Research Laboratory (PEARL), which has been monitoring holes in the ozone and the impacts of climate change in the Arctic. The government earlier raised ire in the scientific community by forcing official monitors on scientists to ensure they didn’t go off script.

However, the Canadian government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has increased science funding in some areas, especially commercialization and applied research. For example the government is spending $105 million on forestry innovation and market development.

But, the scientist protestors say the government has chosen its cuts based on politics to thwart basic research and environmental monitoring.

“It’s not about saving money. It’s about imposing ideology,” Andrew Weaver, a climatologist with the University of Victoria, told the Guardian.

The Canadian government has openly thrown their full support behind the nation’s tar sands industry, a decision that has led to a deep rift between the government and environmentalists—a rift that now appears to be extending to usually apolitical scientists. Many say the cuts, which have been coupled with regulatory rollbacks, are a new method by the government to keep control of any scientific-based criticism of the tar sands and other big industries.

Last year Canada, which has become infamous at international negotiations on climate change for obstructionism, dropped the Kyoto Protocol.

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