Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives

Back in 2012, when Canada's Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives' war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.

An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age. Update: a copy of these logs survives overseas.

The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.

Hutchings saw the library closures fitting a larger pattern of "fear and insecurity" within the Harper government, "about how to deal with science and knowledge."

That pattern includes the gutting of the Fisheries Act, the muzzling of scientists, the abandonment of climate change research and the dismantling of countless research programs, including the world famous Experimental Lakes Area. All these examples indicate that the Harper government strongly regards environmental science as a threat to unfettered resource exploitation.

"There is a group of people who don't know how to deal with science and evidence. They see it as a problem and the best way to deal with it is to cut it off at the knees and make it ineffective," explained Hutchings.

"The other worrying thing is that no one seems to care a great deal about it. There is minimal political cost for doing these things just as there is no political cost to making bad decisions about ocean management."

Many scientists, including Hutchings and world famous water ecologist David Schindler, compared the government's concerted attacks on environmental science to the rise of fascism and the total alignment of state and corporate interests in 1930s Europe.

"You look at the rise of certain political parties in the 1930s," noted Hutchings, "and have to ask how could that happen and how did they adopt such extreme ideologies so quickly, and how could that happen in a democracy today?"

What's Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada's Science Libraries? [Andrew Nikiforuk/The Tyee]

(Image: Book burning, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ender's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. jjsaul says:

    It's not even a matter of finding resources - countless universities would gladly take such archives.

    They are intentionally destroying evidence.

  2. A far more accurate comparison would be the Tea Party. And those on the left who enjoy watching the Tea Party destroy the Republican Party REALLY need to learn from what happened in Canada:

    Canada's Tea Party movement started as the Reform movement within the Conservative Party. Their discontent with the Conservative government came from what they saw as a lack of power for the far right within the party. Runaway deficit spending which the Conservative party promised to stop but instead accelerated. A lack of democratic reforms. And other claims that those watching the Tea Party would find familiar. In 1987 they split off to become the "Reform Party."

    Early on the Reform Party was marked by wingnuttyness and racism. It was home to the religious right. Sound familiar?

    But it's extremists who get all the press. Dumb statements and policies are news; reasonable ones aren't. Because they split the conservative vote, the old Conservative party was reduced to almost no seats in the next election. Some of the far right even celebrated the destruction of the moderate right.

    And so most remaining Conservative candidates went over to the Reform Party.

    The old conservative party (The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada) dissolved in 2004. The Reform Party renamed itself to the Conservative Party of Canada. They got the wingnuts and racists to stop talking to the press.

    But they kept the old Reform Party leadership. The religious right is still in control. And now they run the country.

    This could be the future of the American Tea Party. Even if they destroy and replace the Republican Party, they will still be the major party of the right. And it will still be in power once in a while.

  3. As a librarian, I am simply appalled.

  4. lava says:

    Book burners.
    Whats sad is there was a day where that would be a grave insult.

  5. MarjaE says:

    If you want to destroy people's history, book-burning works. And the fewer the records, or the smaller the group one targets, the better it works. It didn't destroy Jewish history, but many book-burning pictures are from the burning of Hirschfeld's library, part of a campaign that has destroyed trans and intersex history.

    Now we have to face accusations that we have no history, that we did not always exist, that we were invented by the medical establishment - in some cases, accusations that we were invented by the same Nazi scientists who were trying to exterminate our people. It fucking infuriates me.

    If that is what you are trying to do, book-burning works. If that is not what you are trying to do, you don't burn books. If you are burning books, you are trying to rob someone of their history. In this case, they are trying to rob Canadians and the world of their natural history, and conceal the losses, to protect extractive and destructive and polluting industries.

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