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Article Published December 14, 2004



Gordon A. Watts POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts, gordon_watts@telus.net


Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament


Information Commissioner proceeding with legal action

On Friday 3 December 2004 letters were sent from the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada to those individuals who had submitted complaints against Statistics Canada regarding the withholding of records of the 1911 National Census of Canada from public access. The purpose of those letters was to advise that an Application for Review had been filed in the Federal Court.

The pertinent sections of that letter state:
    "I write this letter to inform you that on November 9, 2004 the Information Commissioner of Canada filed an application for review under the Federal Court Rules. This application, filed in the Federal Court as T-1996-04, relates to the refusal by the head of Statistics Canada (the Minister of Industry) to disclose the records you requested under the Access to Information Act."

    "On November 29, 2004, the Federal Court directed that this notice of application be amended to include the matter of the refusal to disclose the 1911 Census records to 95 other individuals who had complained to the Information Commissioner of Canada between July 7, 2003 and October 5, 2004."
The letter advised that complainants may appear as a party in the case but anyone choosing to do so would be required to pay their own expenses. A form letter was included for complainants to advise whether or not they wished to participate in the Application.

I received several messages by those receiving the letter seeking to know what would be involved should they seek to be a party to the Application of the Information Commissioner. Some asked if it would be beneficial to consent to be a party to the Application. I subsequently contacted Daniel Brunet, General Counsel in the Office of the Information Commissioner and received the following information from him.

The form letter that accompanied the letter sent by Mr. Brunet is to satisfy a legal requirement that complainants be notified of the Application for review, and for them to be given the opportunity to participate in the Application should they so choose. The form should be completed and returned ASAP.

Anyone wishing to be a party to the Application would be doing so as an 'intervener' to the action and as such would be required to put forth their own submissions, testimony and arguments, and to provide their own legal counsel.

Essentially, all testimony, submissions and arguments would be done in writing, and by affidavit etc. There would however, be a hearing at which final oral arguments etc. would be heard. The hearing would be open to the public and Mr. Brunet stated he would advise us in advance as to when it would take place. The hearing will be held in Ottawa.

Those taking part in the Application would do so at their own expense. That would include transportation, accommodation, food and the cost of any legal counsel. In the end run, the cost to anyone wishing to participate as a party to the Application could be considerable. You could not expect reimbursement by the government for any part of expenses incurred.

It is my considered opinion that little would be accomplished by any of the complainants being a party to the Application. Legal counsel in the Office of the Information Commissioner is likely more familiar with the workings of the legal system in this type of action than anyone outside of that office. They have had considerable time to research all aspects of the issue and are well prepared in going forth with the Application.

The letter from Mr. Brunet also indicates that on the website of the Information Commissioner (www.infocom.gc.ca) there will soon be a folder added entitled "Litigation" which will contain information concerning the various stages of the Application, including the representations and affidavit and documentary evidence. Information on the progress of the Application will be available there. When I spoke to Mr. Brunet he indicated that the "Litigation" folder should be available some time this week, however, as I write this it does not yet appear to be available.


Bill S-18

Second Reading debate in the Senate on Bill S-18 was adjourned 2 December in the name of Senator Noél Kinsella.

At the beginning of last week there were rumours that Second Reading might be finished and S-18 referred to Committee, with the Committee of Social Affairs, Science and Technology possibly meeting on it as early as Wednesday. This even though the Committee website showed that there were no Committee meetings scheduled. The rumours, however inviting, proved to have no substance in fact.

The Senate sat on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week (7, 8, 9 December) and was adjourned until Monday, 13 December. While Senator Kinsella was shown in attendance for each sitting day last week, and he did speak on other things, no further debate on Bill S-18 took place. On the Senate Order Paper Bill S-18 has daily been shown high up in the order of items listed. However, it would appear that being included in the Senate Order Paper for any given day only means that an item might be debated - not necessarily that it would be. As I write this on the evening of 13 December, Hansard records for the day have not yet been posted so it is unknown if debate on Bill S-18 has continued.

The last sitting day of the Senate before adjournment for Christmas will likely be Thursday 16 December. This gives only a few days for Bill S-18 to complete Second Reading debate and to be referred to Committee if this is to be accomplished in a timely manner (i.e. this year). The Parliamentary Calendar shows that Parliament will not resume sitting again until Monday, 31 January.

From the time Parliament resumes sitting in January until it adjourns for the summer recess there will be 68 sitting days, possibly 78 days if an extension of sitting days is invoked. Not a lot of time for Bill S-18 to finish being processed in the Senate and then to go through the hoops once again in the House of Commons. If we have any hope at all, before Parliament recesses for the summer, of regaining the public access to Historic Census records we seek, we must continue to inform our parliamentarians how important this issue is to us.

Government has been known to rush something through Parliament that is of importance to them. We must make this an issue that is important to them so that they will take steps to expedite passage of Bill S-18.


Holiday Greetings

Holiday Greetings At the risk of being considered 'politically incorrect', on behalf of myself, and the Canada Census Committee, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I extend our best wishes also to anyone who may not celebrate Christmas but celebrate holidays specific to their own faith. May each of you enjoy good health, good cheer, and prosperity in the coming year.

Many people travel to visit loved ones at this time of year. If you have to drive to get where you are going, I urge you to take a little extra care, and a little extra time to get there. Whether you travel a great distance, or only a few miles, we want everyone to return home safely. We need you, and your continued support for the Census campaign.

I myself will be travelling to Calgary to spend Christmas with my son and two of my grand-daughters. Unless something extraordinary happens regarding the Census access issue, this will be the last issue of my column for the year 2004.


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