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Article Published March 4, 2005

Gordon A. Watts POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts,

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

Bill S-18 passed by Senate Committee

Consideration of Bill S-18 - An Act to amend the Statistics Act by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology took place Thursday, 24 February 2005, at 11:00 am. The hearings were held in Room 705, Victoria Building, 140 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

Witnesses appearing were Ms. Jennifer Stoddart - Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada. Senator Lorna Milne had assured us that there was sufficient support among Committee members that Bill S-18 should easily pass the Committee stage and be referred back for Third Reading in the Senate. Based on these assurances, it was not felt necessary for any of the leaders of the Census campaign to appear as witnesses.

During the hearings the witnesses made a statement and were subsequently questioned by a number of Senators. By far the most vociferous of those asking questions was Senator Gerald J. Comeau. When questioning the witnesses, as he had done in Second Reading debate, Senator Comeau fixated on the non-existent 'promise' of confidentiality that never ends. During the Committee hearing he made reference to promises 17 times. During his speech in Second Reading debate the words promise or promises appear no less than 43 times.

Senator Comeau was the only one in Committee to suggest any amendment to Bill S-18. As proposed, the first section of Bill S-18 currently reads:
    18.1 (1) The information contained in the returns of each census of population taken between 1910 and 2005 is no longer subject to sections 17 and 18 ninety-two years after the census is taken.
The amendment proposed by Senator Comeau would have changed it to read:
    18.1 (1) The information contained in the returns of each census of population taken between 1910 and 1918 is no longer subject to sections 17 and 18 ninety-two years after the census is taken.
Fortunately, no Committee member other than Senator Comeau voted in favour of the amendment. Had such an amendment been passed the result would have been unrestricted access to the 1911 and 1916 Censuses, and no access to any Census between 1918 and 2005.

Following questioning of the witnesses, clause by clause deliberation was completed and Bill S-18 was referred back to the Senate without amendment.

What's next?

The next sitting of the Senate will be Monday 7 March 2005. Bill S-18 is not shown on the Order Paper for that day. However, Presentation of Reports from Standing or Special Committees is the third item on the Daily Routine of Business. It is thought likely that Bill S-18 will be reported back to the Senate at that time and that debate on Third Reading will begin on Tuesday 8 March 2005. We are hopeful that Third Reading and Referral to the House of Commons can take place in one sitting.

When Third Reading in the Senate, and Referral to the House of Commons is completed, Bill S-18 will go through a process in the House similar to what it has in the Senate. It will receive First Reading followed by debate and Second Reading. Following Second Reading, it would normally be referred to a Committee of the House of Commons, after which it would be reported back to the House. It has not been unknown that Referral to Committee could be by-passed and the Bill could proceed directly to Third Reading, thus speeding up the process. At each stage, other than First Reading, a vote is taken on how the bill should proceed, or if it should be amended or defeated.

Assuming that all goes well and the Bill passes each of these stages, the next step is for the Governor General or a deputy to give the bill Royal Assent, and for it to be proclaimed into law.

Submissions to Committee

In my last column we suggested it was not necessary for everyone to make a submission to the Senate Committee deliberating Bill S-18. We suggested that it be left up to the major leaders of our campaign to make submissions. I copy below the text of my own submission to the Committee. Those who have read my previous submissions and letters regarding the Census campaign will likely be surprised with the brevity of this one. I suspect members of the Senate Committee likely appreciated that aspect of it.
    15 February 2005

    Honourable Senators:

    As a leader of the campaign to regain the public access to Historic Census records that we believe existing legislation entitles us to, it had been my intention to rebut arguments made by those Senators who spoke against Bill S-18 during Second Reading debate. To that end I had prepared a lengthy submission to be presented to the Committee.

    On reflection however, it would seem I could say little that members of the Committee have not already heard in the past seven years of our campaign, or during my previous appearances before the Committee when they deliberated former Bills S-12 and S-13.

    Let it suffice to reaffirm what the Honourable Senator Lorna Milne stated 2 November 2004 in announcing the introduction of Bill S-18 - An act to amend the Statistics Act. Bill S-18 has the support of the leaders of the Canada Census Campaign, the Canadian Historical Society and the Association of Canadian Archivists. Those leaders have committed to support passage of Bill S-18 without seeking any amendment to it.

    We in the genealogical and historical communities look forward to the speedy passage of Bill S-18 through Committee and Third Reading in the Senate, and it's subsequent passage through the House of Commons. Thank you.


    Gordon A. Watts
    Co-chair, Canada Census Committee
Census petitions

For those who have been holding onto Post 1901 Census petitions, hoping to collect one or two more signatures, it is time to think about sending them to us. To date, the number of signatures on petitions sent to the Senate and House of Commons is approaching 70,000. We hope that soon no more petitions will be needed.

Petitions should be sent to us at the addresses in the following chart.

Gordon A. Watts
1455 Delia Drive
Port Coquitlam, BC
V3C 2V9
Muriel M. Davidson
25 Crestview Avenue
Brampton, Ontario
L6W 2R8

Contacting Members of Parliament

Any communications with your Member of Parliament at this time should stress that Bill S-18 has the support of the Canada Census Committee, the Canadian Historical Association, and the Association of Canadian Archivists. All have committed to support the Bill without seeking any amendments to it.

Advise them also that at such time as Bill S-18 reaches the House of Commons we wish to see it proceed as quickly as possible in order that it can be completed and receive Royal Assent before Parliament recesses for the summer. As always, we advise you to be polite and respectful in your communications.

With a little luck, many of us will spend our summer researching the 1911 Census Records instead of still fighting to have them released.


In the course of the Census campaign we are frequently copied on letters our supporters have sent to their parliamentary representatives. Every once in awhile we are copied on a letter that we consider to be extraordinary - not simply in content, but in the way that content is presented.

The following, from Orin Manitt of Laval, Québec, to Senator Noel Kinsella is such a letter, and is copied here with his permission. Please note that in the interest of personal privacy, the third paragraph of the letter has been changed very slightly from the original sent to Senator Kinsella. The change was made at the request of Mr. Manitt.
    Laval, Quebec
    February 12, 2005

    Hon. Noel A. Kinsella
    The Senate of Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4

    Ref.: Bill S-18, An Act to Amend the Statistics Act

    Dear Senator Kinsella:

    I feel privileged, as a citizen of Canada, to be in a position where I can not only correspond with a member of the Senate or the House of Commons, but also have a reasonable expectation that my views will be accorded some measure of consideration.

    Whereas Bill S-18 has yet to receive Third Reading, and a subsequent vote, I am confident that you will continue to entertain ideas and opinions contrary to your own in the exceedingly important matter of Post-1901 Canada Census release.

    My purpose is, of course, to urge you to support Bill S-18. I know, for example, that a person would likely be surprised to discover a long-forgotten photograph. And if that photograph elicits a positive, personal response then, I would submit, such a response is precisely that experienced by someone fortunate enough to find family in a census.

    A case in point. My own paternal grandparents, residents of the Province of Nova Scotia, passed away in their early forties. My father, the oldest male at nineteen years of age, became head of the household. There was not much communication with relatives, and little or no concern about family history. Thus, my own knowledge of family is exceedingly spare; and I know nothing of my grandparents' early years.

    However, by virtue of the 1901 Canada Census finally being made available on-line, I was able to find them in Cape Breton. As well, it was the first time that I learned of the existence of another member of the family: the first-born, who would have been an aunt to me, had died in childhood. It was clear that she had been named after her own grandmother; but the name was slightly different from what my father had understood it to be. Hence, I was able to make important corrections to certain erroneous information as I continued my search for family.

    To be sure, if this experience is not particularly uncommon, it is because it is shared by many Canadians. Given the upheavals so characteristic of the Diaspora of many national groups through the nineteenth century into the twentieth, and after two world wars, the need for access to the census as an historical artefact becomes paramount.

    For what is a census if not a collection of families; a snapshot of a time in history when ancestors - not yet ancestors - are still part of the social fabric of the nation? But if we are to find them, which is the birthright of every individual, we must have unrestricted access to that census. And yet, the present head of Statistics Canada, as well as two former Privacy Commissioners, preferred not only to deny access but actually proposed that such documents be destroyed. Such an action would have been outrageous in the extreme, and completely deserving of censure.

    It is not surprising that so much confusion has been generated vis-à-vis the release of the 1911 Canada Census, in particular. The unprecedented refusal of the head of Statistics Canada to transfer the 1911 Census to the National Archives defies reason. There was no problem with the release of the 1906 Census; why is there a problem now? As well, the inability, or lack of will, of Parliament to enforce its own law in the face of this refusal only serves to undermine the legitimacy of census release - and doubly serves to undermine the confidence and respect of Canadians in the government itself.

    Such delay and inaction are largely the result of an extraordinary effort by opponents of census release to prove the existence of a "promise of confidentiality" purportedly made to respondents many decades ago. But the arguments put forth degenerated into the amazing claim that any promise of confidentiality would, in fact, apply in perpetuity. This idea, that confidentiality extends into the grave and beyond, is simply ludicrous.

    However, that "promise", the supposed existence of which was dealt an appropriately fatal blow in 1999-2000 by the Expert Panel, continues to inform the efforts of those who would ban release of the census. What is particularly frustrating is that a number of politicians still refuse to accept the findings of that very select committee. I am certainly aware that you, Senator Kinsella, are strongly opposed to the release of census information. Yet, the Canadian people do, in fact and in law, have right of access to the census which, it can be argued, actually belongs to them.

    Another reference to the promise of confidentiality is thought by some to be included in "The Instructions to Officers and Enumerators of Census in Canada", which are very clear in their demand for decorum. Despite the tone, what do the Instructions really say? In a word, the enumerators are being told not to gossip as they go from door to door. It's as straight forward as that. The language of discourse is formal for a reason: to insure that the census takers feel the authority of the government behind the words, as simple as the message is intended to be.

    Further, who is in a position to disparage this interpretation? Not the opponents of census release who are still looking for a promise of confidentiality. The enumerators were cautioned to show discretion. Indeed, they were even encouraged to say nothing about confidentiality unless someone asked. We will never know how many respondents actually posed the question, but we do know this: in well over two hundred years of access to the census, there has not been one complaint concerning the release of information.

    I am convinced that many opponents of census release are confusing privacy with secrecy, a tendency that reveals itself in an over-zealous response, an attitude of defiance, even, to the rightful insistence of Canadians everywhere to access that information. And I have to wonder if it's not really true that a sense of entitlement, of proprietary right, pervades the upper echelons of power. Census information cannot belong to the government bureaucracy alone; it must have its place in the public domain, as well.

    Senator, it is time to conclude these remarks and leave you with a final appeal for support of Bill S-18 and the precedents which were established a very long time ago. I extent to you my sincere thanks for taking the time to read this letter and, also, my best wishes for continued success in your work toward the betterment of Canada and all Canadians.

    Yours very truly,

    Orin Manitt
BMDs threaten Identity theft? - Apparently not!

Richard W. Eastman The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2005 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

While Mr. Eastman's question part way through the article deals with 'vital records', it would apply equally as well to Census records.
    So Why Lock Up the Birth Records?

    It seems that every week we hear of one more situation in which some politician or bureaucrat is trying to restrict access to public domain vital records. Everybody is trying to lock out everyone, including genealogists. Our right to access to public domain birth, marriage, and death information is being threatened constantly under the guise of "preventing identity theft."


    (That's as strong a word as I will use in this family-oriented publication.)

    I am sure that the politicians love the limelight back home when they can brag that they have taken action to "prevent identity theft." Heck, nobody is in favor of identity theft, right? Therefore, just proclaiming to have taken some token action under the smoke screen of "preventing identity theft" is sure to win a few more votes in the next election.

    "Facts? What facts? Don't bother me with facts, I've got a re-election campaign to win."

    Well, now a new study has provided genealogists with some hard facts. These facts should serve as pinpricks to any inflated claims of preventing something that never existed.

    A new survey of 4,000 consumers, about 500 of whom were identity theft victims, was recently conducted by Javelin Research and the Better Business Bureau for CheckFree, Visa, and Wells Fargo Bank. This study is based on cold, hard facts, not the rhetoric or conjecture of someone who makes pronouncements not grounded in reality.

    According to the people who were victims of identity theft, here are the eight most common sources:

    • Lost or stolen wallet: 29%
    • Fraud that occurs during an in-store or telephone transaction: 12.9%
    • Corrupt employees: 9%
    • Stolen mail: 8%
    • Spyware on the computer: 5%
    • Sifting through garbage: 2.6%
    • Computer viruses: 2.2%
    • "Phishing" through fraudulent e-mail: 1.7%

    Take a close look at the above. Please note the rating for "obtained a record from the vital records department." Do you see it? I don't.

    The full report is quite lengthy. Here are a few other random facts extracted from the Better Business Bureau's announcement:

    Among cases where the perpetrator's identity is known, half of all identity fraud is committed by a friend, family member, relative, neighbor or in-home employee - someone known by the victim.

    A wide variety of metrics confirm that identity fraud problems are NOT worsening. In fact, the total number of victims is declining. The number of identity fraud victims dropped from 10.1 million in 2003 to 9.3 million in 2004.

    The median value of identity fraud crimes remained unchanged at $750; however most identity fraud victims incurred no out-of-pocket costs. You can read the full report on the Better Business Bureau's web site

    The next time someone claims that access to public records needs to be restricted in order to "reduce identity theft," let's ask an embarrassing question: "Show me some proof." Then, in the awkward silence that follows, let's ask that person to read the facts as proven by the Javelin Research and the Better Business Bureau report.

    Here's a bit of advice to politicians and bureaucrats: please focus on real issues where there is a demonstrated need. Otherwise, someone may just deflate your balloon.

    My thanks to Peter Parkhurst for alerting me to the results of this new study.
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