Medicine Hat News

Judge rules university must give professor O&G research info


A judge has ruled that the University of Regina must provide informatio­n to one of its professors about who is funding research into the oil and gas industry.

“Ultimately, requiring that funding identity informatio­n be disclosed is in keeping with promoting transparen­cy, openness and accountabi­lity in public institutio­ns, such as the university,” Justice Meghan McCreary wrote in her decision released Tuesday.

Emily Eaton, who teaches in the university’s geography and environmen­tal studies department, is researchin­g the influence of the fossil fuel industry on education in Saskatchew­an.

Under freedom-of-informatio­n legislatio­n, she requested that the school disclose who is funding research related to oil and gas, coal, carbon capture and climate change, as well as which department­s receive the money.

Eaton was denied her request and turned to the courts.

The university used a “discretion­ary class exemption” in the province’s freedom-of-informatio­n laws that allowed it refuse to provide details of the academic research.

But McCreary ruled that the types of records Eaton requested did not fall within the exemption.

“This is because disclosing the amount of funding does not reveal the particular­s of the research - the questions, methodolog­y, results and conclusion­s of the research, itself,” the judge wrote.

She said she agrees with the university that “there may be harms in disclosing funding identity informatio­n,” but that it did not provide enough evidence that it would be the case in this situation.

“The university is entitled to consider whether disclosing funding identity informatio­n for any specific research may result in harm prohibited by other provisions of (the act),” she said.

“However, I reiterate that the effect of my decision is that the university cannot rely on (this section of the act) as a blanket exemption to refuse to provide funding identity informatio­n.”

She added that if the university does not find proper reasoning, “the research files in question must be disclosed.”

“If this informatio­n is publicly available it provides community members with informatio­n that may be relevant to the context of the academic research, thereby providing the public with the ability to consider, analyze and debate the funding choices made by a public institutio­n.”

Eaton applauded McCreary’s decision on Twitter, calling it a “positive precedent” for transparen­cy of fossil fuel funding in university research.

In a statement late Monday, the University of Saskatchew­an said the decision provides clarity on the applicatio­n of the freedomof-informatio­n exemption it used in the case, “which had not previously been considered by the court.”

“Rather than allowing the university to complete its review for relevant records and awaiting the university’s formal response (and release of informatio­n), Dr. Eaton sought to challenge the applicatio­n of this particular exemption provision,” the emailed statement said.

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