B.C. Wildlife Federation Executive Director Jesse Zeman testified before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, detailing the Federation’s struggles to gain access to taxpayer-funded research used to make fisheries decisions.
The testimony of Zeman and others made a strong impression on the Committee, which has taken steps to ensure greater transparency at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and to ensure that DFO stops altering peer-reviewed research for political expediency.
According to the March 2023 report by the Standing Committee: Zeman described the long, frustrating process to attempt to gain access to information related to Fraser steelhead which involved an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request. He relayed how, following a complaint by the B.C. Wildlife Federation about the 10-month turnaround for the request given by DFO, the Office of the Information Commissioner found that the exclusion was not reasonable given the circumstances even if DFO had deemed refusal of access to the requested records. The Office informed the B.C. Wildlife Federation that pursuing this issue further would mean applying to the Federal Court for a review. Zeman thought it was unreasonable to expect his organization to pay legal fees to gain access to records paid for by Canadians. In his opinion, the refusal to grant access means that “transparency within this institution is non-existent. Within the context of science, it means that DFO is willing and happy to not only hide and edit science. It is now happy to refuse to disclose records.”
Among the recommendations made by the Standing Committee:
- Make all scientific data produced by DFO publicly available for peer review from researchers outside of the Department.
- That the Government of Canada initiate an independent audit of how and to what degree DFO has implemented their science integrity policy and that the resulting audit report be tabled in the House of Commons in 2023.
- That DFO conduct robust peer reviewed, non-biased science with academic organizations and include both harvesters’ knowledge and Indigenous traditional knowledge.
- Given the importance of a sustainable fishery on the economic and social health of small, coastal communities and our obligations toward Indigenous reconciliation, that DFO prioritize completing regular and thorough stock assessments on all three coasts and commit to timely and fulsome community and stakeholder engagement on proposed fishing restrictions to protect fish stocks and marine species threatened or at risk.
- That DFO introduce an annual Report to Parliament on the status of fish stocks, staffing levels and expenditures by program area, and fisheries management performance in a publicly available report to enable transparency of evidence used for ministerial decision-making, including any pertinent decision notes.