You may know the Canadian actress for her tough-girl roles in Lost or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But Evangeline Lilly has a battle – besides those with orcs and island smoke monsters – to fight: the battle for Canada’s scientists.
Lilly first heard about the defunding and muzzling of Canada’s federal scientists when she was reading DeSmog Canada just over a year ago. In a spate of funding cuts, the federal government eliminated some of Canada’s most prestigious scientific institutions, to the dismay of scientists and Canadians across the country. And since the Harper government has been in power, strict communications protocols have prevented scientists from speaking with the public about their research, limiting public awareness of taxpayer-funded science.
Lilly, who now lives in the U.S., said she keeps an eye out for stories about her homeland. And it always concerns her when she stumbles across something so disheartening.
“I think it’s always a little bit scary and astounding when as a citizen of what you consider to be a free nation you discover one day for various reasons…that something awful has been going on under your nose and you didn’t know,” she told DeSmog Canada. “And that happens to me a little more often than I’m comfortable with nowadays.”
Lilly was dismayed to learn that “all over Canada right now scientists are having all their funding pulled,” she said, “especially scientists who are speaking about climate change.”
“That terrified me,” she said.
Democracy relies on science
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“As a democratic nation most of us would shake our heads and say that’s terrible,” she said, adding the targeting of scientists is an affront to “human rights.”
Most importantly, she said, people need scientific information to retain their decision-making power. If Canadians are uninformed then they won’t even know when decisions are being made for them.
“People need [scientific] information. They need that base objective standard that they can test their decisions against.”
Part of the fear associated with muzzled scientists, Lilly said, is the realization that governments are making decisions on behalf of their citizens, without their input or consent.
If Canadians knew more about the decisions the Government of Canada was making, “they would disagree, I think, for the large part [with] these decisions,” she said.
Even the basic issue of defunding scientists, Lilly said, doesn’t seem to be something most Canadians would support.
“I don’t think there’s a Canadian who would say ‘yeah that’s a great idea, let’s get rid of scientists, what do we need scientists for?’” she said.
“I think we’re a nation of intelligent, rational, peaceable, harmonious people. I’m very proud to be Canadian but Canadians aren’t getting the information they need to have.”
Lilly said that she, like a lot of people, doesn’t have tons of time to devote to researching every environmental issue, or policy issue and what the facts are behind these issues. She’s a young mom, with a flourishing acting career and a new career in writing.
The truth is, she said, ordinary people have to rely on experts they can trust.
“I rely on the experts in this world, experts like scientists and journalists, to give me the information to help guide me, to help me guide the government and I think that circle is the way democracy is supposed to work,” she said.
No science, no accountability
The important thing about science, Lilly said, is it acts as evidence for decision-making. Without science to back up decisions, it becomes very difficult to hold governments accountable in their leadership.
“As soon as the government is trying to control both scientists and the media now they start to control my ability to control them,” Lilly said. “That becomes really dangerous because it takes all the power out of the hands of the people in a democratic situation.”
Lilly said that the government pulling funds from major research institutions and restricting the freedom of scientists to speak about their work without upper-level bureaucratic permission actually impedes her ability to be a productive, informed citizen.
“They’re not allowing me to have that expert provide me with the information I need in order to make educated decisions about how I vote on different issues in the country.”
Time to stand up for our scientists
Lilly believes it’s her job – just as it’s the job of every average Canadian – to support scientists.
“I really believe it’s the Canadian people’s time and responsibility to stand up on behalf of their incredible scientists who are fighting for the truth and trying to give them the facts.”
Most of us just don’t have the time to discover these facts out on our own, Lilly said. “Or maybe don’t even, in my case, have the intelligence probably to discover these facts,” she laughed.
But she said, in all seriousness, science acts as a pillar of democracy. It’s a task for all of us to ensure it remains standing strong.
“It’s my job to stand up for that scientist and fight for them and say to my government, ‘I don’t think what you’re doing is right and I’m not going to let you get away with it,’” Lilly said, adding: “’It’s not your job to regulate science, it’s science’s job to regulate you.’”