Canadian cities prepare to march for science

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'We need to stand in solidarity': A Montreal doctor on why she's marching for science

'We need to stand in solidarity': A Montreal doctor on why she's marching for science

On Saturday thousands of Canadians are expected to participate in the March for Science at nineteen locations across Canada. The march is designed to promote and advocate for science. While organizers believe it won't rival that of the Women's March from Jan. 21, turnout is expected to be high.

The March for Science was borne out of a Reddit conversation following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump. The new administration was suggesting funding cuts to various scientific arms; climate change information was taken off federal websites; other scientific branches were being told not to post anything on social media. Frustrated scientists voiced their concerns and suggested that they organize a march similar to the Women's March.

After the march was arranged in Washington D.C., other cities across the U.S., Canada and the world began to form their own satellite marches. There are 609 satellite marches planned across 68 countries.

One of the key themes in the March for Science is that it is non-partisan but political. While that may seem like a contradiction, one of the organizers in Vancouver, explains:

"The erosion of science, or the denial of science isn't a partisan issue," said Sarah Topps. "Science isn't something you can cherry pick; you have to take it as it is … we are appealing to politicians but we're not specifically trying to target politicians of one group. We want all politicians to listen to this message."

Evan Savage, one of the organizers from the march in Toronto, said this satellite group shares the same belief.

"It's sort of a tricky thing because we do call out [former prime minister Stephen] Harper; we do call out Trump for some of his specific policies. But the point we always try to make is we're not against this particular party, we're not against this particular politician — we're against the things that they are doing that factually and demonstrably undermine science."

Canadian federal scientists underwent a similar situation under Harper: they accused the federal government of "muzzling" them, frustrated that they weren't free to speak with the media and faced similar funding cuts.

And while there was eventually protest, the outrage was nothing like what is being seen today in the United States.

Topps said the reason for that is likely due to the fact that the muzzling of scientists in Canada was done gradually, whereas what has taken place in the U.S. has been quite rapid, beginning a day after Trump's inauguration.

But the perceived threat to science isn't something new, Savage, who works closely with scientists as a consultant, said.

"It's been happening for a while. I mean, these things don't just pop up overnight," he said. "Climate change denial stretches back in the political discourse 10, 15, 20 years at this point, probably more."

Marchers from all walks of life

While there's no denying that the march is political in nature, the organizers say they hope to highlight the importance of science in our society and promote diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In Vancouver, Topps noted the high interest of participation by Indigenous groups. They're hoping to get an elder to open the ceremony and the Daughters of the Drum will be leading the march. As well, their logo incorporates a First Nations design. 

Savage said that he's seeing interest from people from all walks of life including scientists, parents, children, educators, people who work with scientists. He said in some of the chatter between satellite groups, they debated about how they could illustrate the importance of science while marching.

"We were sharing chants and one of them was, on the march route, you sort of point to things and say, 'Look! Science helped make this!'"

So, could this march — precipitated by what many viewed as an attack on science — actually be increasing the public's awareness about the importance of science and scientific discourse?

"I think it's certainly true that this is a positive that's come out of a negative," Topps said. "And I'm hoping that it continues and maintains its momentum."

To find a march near you, visit March for Science.