Environment Canada scientist placed on leave over 'Harperman' protest song
Published Friday, August 28, 2015 9:03PM EDT
An Environment Canada researcher has been placed on administrative leave with pay, after he wrote and performed a protest song against Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
"Harperman" was written by scientist and Ottawa folk singer Tony Turner. The controversial song was posted on YouTube in June, ahead of the fall federal election, and has been viewed nearly 67,000 times as of Friday evening. In the video, Turner plays the guitar and fronts dozens of other singers who join in the chorus.
He is not identified as a public servant in the video, and according to his union, viewers wouldn't have known he worked for the federal government had he not been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.
Turner was sent home earlier this month over concerns he broke Environment Canada's ethics code and guidelines set up by the Public Service Commission of Canada. But according to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Turner did not breach any rules.
"From our point of view, he hasn't infracted any code and certainly not any of the guidelines," union president, Debi Daviau, told CTV News Channel Friday. She said that for the most part, public servants have the same rights as other Canadian citizens when it comes to being politically active in a federal election campaign.
"Quite frankly, we don’t see this folk song as any other different type of activity that a public servant might get involved in such as supporting a candidate or going door-to-door or putting a lawn sign up," she said.
Daviau added the rules surrounding what public servants are allowed to do during a federal election were established through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They were later upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1991 case related to a public servant who put up a sign supporting a candidate.
Turner was placed on leave because his tune was potentially a conflict of interest for the scientist, who was studying migratory birds. But Daviau argues that the song does not prevent him from being impartial.
"It's really hard to make the linkage of how a conflict was created how this person's work might be impeded."
And it seems even Environment Canada is unclear about whether any rules were violated, Daviau said.
She said Turner being sent home with pay is a "clear indication that even the department isn't sure if an infraction has been committed."
In the song, Turner sings a number of politically-charged lyrics, touching on subjects such as the Mike Duffy trial, climate change, and a leader who "muzzles" scientists.
Daviau said the song is "well-founded" in facts in terms of the impact the current government’s policy has had on public services.
"Clearly Mr. Harper would not like this song, but the song doesn't, in fact, take aim at the government of Canada. It takes aim at the incumbent, the current prime minister."