Last Friday, the Council of Canadians received a response from Fisheries and Oceans Canada denying their request to visit the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). The response came just a day after the Council of Canadians released a poll indicating that 73% of Canadians opposed the funding cuts to the ELA, and that more specifically 60% of Conservatives opposed the cuts.
“We’re obviously very disappointed with the response,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians. “We certainly are getting the sense that the federal government is trying to hide something and is putting up a wall around the ELA to prevent the public from getting more information.”
The rejection is the latest of a large number of recent denials of requests for more information and to visit the ELA. All media requests with scientists have been denied by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Requests from Members of Parliament have been denied multiple times. Requests from citizens for ELA scientists to speak about their work have also been rejected. Public events including the annual open house for the ELA are no longer being organized.
“We put in the request because we wanted to learn more about the critical work that the ELA does,” Emma Lui, Water Campaigner for the Council of Canadians. “The Harper government wants to transfer the facility to a third party without public scrutiny and essentially sweep the issue under the rug. In order to continue to be effective, the ELA must stay public.”
The Experimental Lakes Area is a unique federal research program that studies the long-term impacts of global threats to freshwater lakes. Operating for more than 40 years, the ELA consists of 58 small lakes where scientists study the effects of water pollution, climate change and other threats.
Earlier this year, the Harper government announced that they were cutting the $2 million annual budget to the program in March 2013. However, there are concerns that the cancellation of funding stems from information produced by the program that sheds a spotlight on the harmful impacts of tar sands development.
Maude Barlow and Emma Lui submitted their original request on September 28, 2012. After receiving no response for two weeks, they resubmitted their request earlier last week and then received the rejection notice on Friday.