By Andrew Nikiforuk
23 December 2013
(TheTyee.ca) – Scientists say the closure of some of the world's finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.
Many collections such as the Maurice Lamontagne Institute Library in Mont-Joli, Quebec ended up in dumpsters while others such as Winnipeg's historic Freshwater Institute library were scavenged by citizens, scientists and local environmental consultants. Others were burned or went to landfills, say scientists.
Furthermore, the government is falsely claiming that vital content is being retained by extensively digitizing material from nine regional libraries that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) whittled down to two.
"The Department has claimed that all useful information from the closed libraries is available in digital form. This is simply not true. Much of the material is lost forever," reports one DFO scientist who requested not to be named.
That picture of a taxpayer-funded treasure trove of information laid waste emerges from interviews by The Tyee with half a dozen prominent scientists, many of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear that their funding or other government support could be hurt if their names were connected with the concerns they were eager to share.
Some of the research scientists interviewed questioned the legality of what they saw happening, accusing the Harper government of "libricide."
Not only has the Canadian public lost critical environmental and cultural baseline data more than 100 years old, but scientists have lost the symbolic heart of their research operations.
A DFO scientist told The Tyee, "The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order to meet some unknown agenda. No records have been provided with regard to what material has been dumped or the value of this public property. No formal attempt was made to transfer material to libraries of existing academic institutions." (See sidebar.)
One scientist after another struggled to make sense of the shuttering of libraries devoted to water and fish in a nation that guards the world's largest coastline and roughly 18 per cent of the world's surface freshwater. Most saw in the actions a political agenda by the Harper government to reduce the role of government in Canadian society, as well as the use of scientific evidence in making policy.
According to an analysis by Bill Curry published by the Globe and Mail, the Harper government will reduce the size of the Canadian government to its smallest level in 50 years by 2015.
As reported by The Tyee earlier this month, key libraries dismantled by the government included the famous Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg; the historic St. Andrews Biological Station (SABS) in St. Andrews, New Brunswick (Rachel Carson, the celebrated environmental scientist, corresponded with researchers there for her book, Silent Spring) and one of the world's finest ocean collections at Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland. [more]