Turner’s Dissent:Controlling the Conduct of Federal Scientists


The story of Anthony Turner exposes tactics used by the Harper government to justify punishing the dissent of government employees and to preemptively silence future possible dissenters. The use of a ‘code of neutrality’ discourages dissent among government employees and Turner’s punishment was likely internalized by other government employees. The ‘code of neutrality’ which prohibited government employees from unapproved media statements, was removed when the Liberal Party took office. Under the Harper government, a poll found 90 per cent of federal scientists did not feel as though they could speak freely to the media. Two years after the neutrality code was removed a similar survey found 50 per cent of federal scientists still do not feel they can speak freely to the press (Chung, 2018). Through a Foucauldian analysis the significance of Turner’s experience will be explored.

It is worth reminding that “democracies are not supposed to criminalize dissent” (Starr, Fernandez & Scholl, 2011, p.2). Dissent is protected in a democratic society on the idea that that majoritarian, popular or hegemonic view might be morally or factually wrong (Starr et al., 2011). While citizen dissent may, in theory, be protected in a democratic society, the code of neutrality enabled distinctions to be made between the rights of civil servants and the rights of citizens. The code of neutrality once implemented by the Harper government blurred the lines between the government working for the people, and the people working for the government. Indeed, a code of neutrality is a means of justifying the control and suppression of dissent based in terms of employee/employer relations. By associating the control of dissent with ‘common sense’ employee /employer relations, Harper attempted to make suppressing the dissent of civil servants appear legitimate. This reflects what Gramsci referred to as an ‘interventionist’ capitalist state that gains its legitimacy on the consensus of values, in this case work ethic values, and attempts to frame its actions as common sense’ (Hall et al., 1978).  The code of neutrality enabled the Harper government to punish Turner’s dissent according to employee/employer values which appear ‘common sense’ based, so long as the government is viewed as an employer first and foremost. It also masks the class based motives behind such code of neutrality, such as muzzling scientists to promote resource development. This method of muzzling federal scientist aligns with Foucault’s concept of governmentality (Foucault, 2009).

Governmentality is the interaction between the power which shapes the conduct of individuals towards certain ends, like the code of neutrality, with the technology of the self, which is when individuals modify their own conduct. The code of neutrality is hierarchical power that turned into disciplinary power once federal scientists began to modify their own conduct by internalizing discourses. Discourses are ways of constituting knowledge, knowing and practices which shapes subjectivity and how organizations operate. The code of neutrality gave coercive powers to punish Turner. While the coercive powers of the code of neutrality are no longer present, the discourses surrounding it were internalized by federal scientists. As previously mentioned, 50 per cent of federal scientists have internalized such discourses to the extent of still not feeling comfortable talking freely to the media. The impact of discourses during the Harper government were internalized by federal scientists who are still modifying their conduct because of it. This case study exemplifies how policies can continue to control the individual conduct even after the policy is removed. The lingering impacts the code of neutrality had on the subjectivity and practices of federal scientists continues to discourage influential voices from speaking to the press, enabling the state to operate with less opposition. Such operations continue to enable a capitalist accumulation of wealth and maintain ‘order’ by internalized discourses modifying the conduct of federal scientists to align with a neoliberal market.





Chung, E. (February 21, 2018). More than half of federal government scientists still feel muzzled, poll finds. CBC News Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/muzzled-scientists-1.4545562

Foucault, M. (2009). Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador.

Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J., & Roberts, B. (1978). Crime, Law and the State. In Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order (pp. 181-217). London: Macmillan.

Kohut, T. (Oct. 3 2015). How ‘Harperman’ flipped Tony Turner’s life upside down. Global News. Retrieve  February 22, 2018 from https://globalnews.ca/news/2255685/how-harperman-flipped-tony-turners-life-upside-down/

Lum, Z. (August 28, 2015). ‘Harperman’ song puts federal scientist under ethics Investigation. Huffington  Post Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2018 from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/08/28/harperman-song_n_8055336.html

Starr, A., Fernandez, L., Scholl, C. (2011). What is going on? In Shutting down the streets: Political violence and social control in the global era (pp.1-22). New York: University Press.

Watters, H. (Aug. 28 2015). Federal scientist put on leave over Harperman protest song. CBC News.  Retrieved February 22, 2018 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/harperman-tony-turner-scientist-investigation-1.3207390



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