Alex De Serrano and Rebecca Batstone, PhD students in evolution and ecology at the University of Toronto, came out. Image: Lisa Cumming

Why Scientists in Canada Are Marching Against Trump, Too

Toronto's March for Science showed solidarity with colleagues to the south. But Canada isn't perfect, either.

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Apr 22 2017, 7:26pm

Alex De Serrano and Rebecca Batstone, PhD students in evolution and ecology at the University of Toronto, came out. Image: Lisa Cumming

Toronto is a tricky city in terms of weather, but Saturday couldn't have been a better day for the Sun to shine. Scientists and their allies gathered downtown for the city's March for Science on April 22, Earth Day. Similar marches were taking place in cities across Canada and around the world—from London to Vancouver—and in Toronto, the crowd grew by the minute.

Today's principal March for Science was in Washington DC, and for many was a protest against anti-science policies introduced under President Trump. In Toronto, panelists spoke about the unique challenges that Canadian scientists have faced, like their muzzling under Stephen Harper, as well as ongoing issues around diversity in science and tech, including the need for greater inclusion of Indigenous communities and women in Canadian research.

The crowd at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. Image: Lisa Cumming

Katie Gibbs, Executive Director (currently on leave) for nonprofit Evidence for Democracy, told Motherboard in a phone interview before Saturday's march that issues surrounding science don't just stay on one side of the border.

When scientists in Canada were fighting against the Harper government, Gibbs said, they had support and solidarity from American counterparts, and now they want to extend the same to colleagues in the US. The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, "was really supportive when we were going through these same issues," she said, "and it's partly why it's so important for us to be there and stand with them."

Trump figurines at the march. Image: Lisa Cumming

Gibbs said the point of marching is not to change Trump's mind, but to show US scientists that people all across the world are aware of their struggle.

And it's not like Trump's policies won't affect anyone outside of his country, either. She pointed out that Trump is pulling funding to clean up the Great Lakes, which could affect drinking water for millions of people on both sides of the border.

Read More: Canada's Censored Scientists Are Helping American Researchers Resist Trump

Chants heard during the Toronto rally—like "Climate change is real, vaccines work!" and "Show us the data!"—echoed this frustration.

Diversity issues in science were addressed at the march by speakers including Dawn Martin-Hill, a member of the Mohawk Nation, Wolf Clan, and co-founder of the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. She outlined some of the issues that Indigenous peoples still face in both Canada and the US. "We understand that everybody has a right to their own ways of being, as long as you respect our Earth," she said.

Dawn Martin-Hill speaking at the rally. Image: Lisa Cumming

Alya Bhimji, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Toronto studying laboratory medicine and pathobiology, said she's marching because she thinks that the public should be aware of the impact and importance of scientific knowledge. As what she thinks about Trump, "he should believe more in scientific facts, rather than alternative facts."

March organizer Evan Savage said that science depends on global cooperation.

"We see echoes of what happened here in Canada, in the US," he said. "That being said, we are and have always positioned ourselves as explicitly non-partisan. We're not against Trump, we're not against Republicans, Conservatives or Harper. We're against the policies that were put in place to undermine scientists."

Mother and daughter Muriah Umoquit and Kalia are here in solidarity. Image: Lisa Cumming

Savage didn't let Canada's Justin Trudeau off the hook, though. He said that the current Prime Minister could be doing more to support the sciences. Canadian marchers were calling on government to enact recommendations from the recent Naylor Report, which looked into problems with the state of Canadian research, including diversity issues.

Bibha Sapkota and Ginny Galpin, respectively a bio major and a chem major at the University of Waterloo, came to the march. Image: Lisa Cumming

"The Naylor Report highlighted the urgent need to increase the amount of funding for basic research here in Canada," he said. Because this report was released after the federal budget came out, Savage worries we're not going to see any real funding change for at least a year.

"Canada isn't immune to censorship when it comes to science," said Aadita Chaudhury, a speaker at the Toronto march and a PhD student at York University, in a phone call with Motherboard before the main event. "We shouldn't feel better about ourselves just because we're not in Trump's America."

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