Is the government breaking the law?


Recent articles by Margaret Munro and from the CBC have raised the possibility that restricting the communications of federal scientists could actually be illegal. I, for one, am very interested to see how that one plays out.

However, it raises an interesting issue- by shutting down federal programs like the Experimental Lakes Area, the government is actually failing to meet their contractual obligations for memorandums of understanding with a number of partners- with some pretty significant financial implications (and we all know how much Fisheries and Oceans likes their agreements with external researchers these days). Could they be sued for not meeting those obligations?

Case in point #1: the Lake Ecosystem NanoSilver experiment, or LENS, led by Chris Metcalfe and other researchers at Trent University. This is an NSERC-funded strategic grant worth over 3/4 of a million dollars, plus a bunch more in leveraged funding from (perhaps ironically) Environment Canada. As a partner on the grant, DFO’s main obligation was the staff and facility at the Experimental Lakes Area. So- what do you contribute as a research partner when you close the facility that you were providing? Isn’t that a breach of contract?

Case #2: the recently-announced 4.4 Million dollar NSERC-funded Network grant, the Canadian Network for Aquatic Ecosystem Services, which was officially announced last week. Again, DFO is featured prominently as a partner on this very significant grant, and, like the LENS project, the main contribution was the involvement of the Experimental Lakes Area. What you don’t know is that DFO has been scrambling to figure out just how they will be able to remain as partners on this initiative, given that they just shut down the place where a major component of one of the research themes was meant to take place.

Don’t forget that the US government and Smithsonian institution are still involved in ongoing monitoring from a mercury addition experiment that is in recovery phase; METAALICUS. Given that the work from this experiment is contributing to US and UN policies on mercury emissions, they might presumably have a vested interest in seeing that work follow through.

Given that DFO enters legally-binding agreements in these types of projects, it stands to reason that if they are unable to provide their commitments, they should be held legally responsible. Realistically, it takes some pretty deep pockets to sue the government, but I really wonder if this is one of the scenarios that the department “risk managed” when they decided to close this facility.