Minister Accused of "Bullying" Science Council Over Palestine Conference

Is it "heavy-handed bullying" or simply a "misunderstanding between bureaucrats"? The suggestion that Canada's science minister threatened to punish one of the country's research funding councils over its support of a conference on Palestinian statehood has rekindled debate on a story we reported this summer.

Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, this spring asked the Social Science and Humanities Research Council to review its decision to support a June conference at York University in Toronto the United Kingdom on the prospects for peace in the Middle East because of his concern that some of the participants may be biased against Israel. This week the Canadian Association of University Teachers released a memo that describes a conversation between the Council's communications manager, Trevor Lynn, and Goodyear’s chief of staff, Phillip Welford. The memo, from Lynn to the council's president and other senior officials, quotes Welford as saying that the council's actions "will make it hard for the Minister to recommend increased funding for [the council] in the next budget.”

The conference went off as planned. But in response to a freedom of information act request from the teacher's association, the government released some 700 pages of documents relating to the matter.

“Now we have evidence something much worse was going on,” says Jim Turk, executive director of the teacher's association, which this spring called for Goodyear to be fired for what it viewed as political interference in the council's actions. “From our point of view, this isn’t about that conference at York. It isn’t even about [the council]. It’s about the independence and integrity of academic research and inquiry in Canada. It really is unprecedented. It’s heavy-handed bullying tactics.”

Goodyear’s office has not responded to the controversy, which one official privately dismissed as “a misunderstanding between bureaucrats.” The Council issued a statement last night that says the “internal email regarding comments by the Minister’s Chief of Staff is inaccurate.” It did not elaborate.