Canadian scientists protest against spending cuts

OTTAWA Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:20pm BST

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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Several hundred Canadian scientists and their supporters held an unprecedented protest march on Tuesday to demonstrate against the government's decision to close down major facilities and fire research staff.

The protesters, who say the right-of-center Conservative government dislikes science, walked through central Ottawa behind a woman dressed as the Grim Reaper and a coffin designed to mourn the "Death of Evidence".

"Evidence is the way that adults navigate reality. To deny evidence is to live in a fairy world ... when countries engage in fantasy it's called state propaganda," Simon Fraser University professor Arne Moores told a crowd of around 800 people gathered on Parliament Hill.

The Conservatives intend to stop funding an Arctic environment atmospheric research laboratory, a move U.S. scientists complain will harm the world's ability to monitor the ozone layer.

Ottawa is also shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area in northern Ontario, which plays a major role in helping study the effects of water pollution. Budget cuts also mean hundreds of scientists and researchers will lose their jobs.

The government -- which will also kill off its own environmental advisory agency -- variously cites the need to save money and focus on more important areas.

"As a country we have been lagging behind our peer nations on applied research and commercialization and our government is taking steps to correct that -- but not at the expense of basic research," said a spokeswoman for junior science minister Gary Goodyear.

Critics say Ottawa is more interested in helping the powerful energy industry and note the March budget included measures making it easier for major projects such as oil pipelines to receive building permission.

"The government is shutting down science, decimating Environment Canada ... it's pretty transparent," University of Waterloo earth sciences professor Sherry Schiff told Reuters.

Many in the crowd said it was the first time they could remember Canadian scientists demonstrating en masse.

At the end of the protest, some of those present placed flowers at the front of the coffin and science books inside it.

"An iron curtain is being drawn between science and society. Closed curtains, especially those made of iron, make for very dark rooms," said Jeff Hutchings, professor of biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Not everyone sees the issue in this light. A post by a reader on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp's website dismissed the protest as "just more yapping from lefties who have had their year round holiday collecting loon scat or buffalo farts canceled."

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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