By Margrit Eichler
March 26, 2015
When I came to Canada in December of 1970, I thought that I had finally found the country of my dreams. I remember that the Toronto Star had a newspaper box with a little open (!) box on top. You put in your quarter in the box and took out a newspaper. In the evening, there would be quite a collection of quarters open to the world. Hard to believe today.
Now we put the money through a slot so that it cannot be stolen. I remember when I saw the first homeless person sleeping on a grate and how utterly shocked I was – now I walk past them, having become inured to their presence by sheer weight of numbers. Then we were a peace-keeping nation; now we are a militaristic nation.
Things have certainly changed, but until some years ago I still felt that this was the Canada into which I immigrated—altered, to be sure, but still a country with compassion, some sense of social justice, the freedom to say what you want, and a sense of respect for public knowledge in its many forms. A country that had one of the best statistical services of the world. A country that was internationally respected for its scientific work. A country I could be proud of.
These days, I am no longer proud to be a Canadian. We have a government that abolished the census that gave us knowledge of who we are. We have a government that muzzles scientists and does not let them speak with the media and the public. We have a government that uses the Canada Revenue Agency to harass organizations that do not agree with government policy. We have a government that values the health of its citizens so little that it has abolished crucial services that gave us information to protect our health.
What pushed me over the edge was what happened to Libraries and Archives Canada. In 2013 LAC introduced a new Code of Conduct that declared giving a paper at a scientific conference a “high risk” activity and that curtailed the capacity of its employees to be critical of the government in their private time, as private citizens. (Sections of this code were later revised due to public outcry.) Libraries were closed. Books were dumped. Priceless collections were destroyed. As one of my friends said at the time, “This is the burning of the library in Alexandria all over again.”
In the wake of these assaults on public knowledge, a group of concerned citizens founded Scientists for the Right to Know. We keep track of what is happening, network with other organizations, and work to make the right to public knowledge an election issue.
This is not the country any longer into which I immigrated and that I loved with a passion. But love is irrational, and that’s why I am not willing to give up on it. We the citizens need to join our forces and demand in this forthcoming election to get a government that respects public knowledge, that provides knowledge rather than making us deliberately ignorant, and that supports public science and its repositories, namely public libraries and archives.
This is the first instalment of what we hope will be a regular blog series, with posts written by a wide range of people engaged in the struggle for public knowledge from across the country. Stay tuned for forthcoming posts from Margaret Munro, David Suzuki, Franke James, Michael Riordan, and many more scientists, activists, artists, and Canadians! And if there’s something you would like to see appear on our blog, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thank you. Margrit Eichler is Professor Emerita of OISE/UT. She received her PhD in Sociology from Duke University. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the European Academy of Sciences, and she received an honorary doctorate from Brock University. She has remained an activist during her entire academic career.