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Article Published August 27, 1999 Vol. III No. 14

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament.

Dissenting Views

In our enthusiasm to enlighten and promote our campaign to have the Government of Canada retroactively amend legislation to allow release of Post 1901 Census reports, we may have a tendency to forget that not all people would share our views on the subject. On a few occasions (one or two for myself) we will run into people who will refuse to sign our petitions and will argue against what we are trying to do.

In one instance we have had a mail list owner inform us that postings regarding Post 1901 Census issues are considered off topic and would not be allowed even though the list was set up for genealogy postings. Fortunately, most list owners have been supportive in our efforts so long as we do not overdo it. In dealing with situations like this we must consider that other people, like ourselves, have a right to their opinions, and it is not worth our time and efforts to argue with them. Live and let live. We have other directions in which to go where the efforts of the campaign are appreciated. Let us direct our energies in ways that can be productive to our end goal.

Importance of The Internet to Our Campaign

While the efforts of the Canada Census Campaign committee have, for the most part, been conducted through the internet, we encourage readers and others concerned with the Census issue to expand the range of our efforts to include newspapers, radio talk shows, talking with friends and relatives, or whatever means at their disposal that can get the word out. While via the internet we have been able to enlighten many people about the Post 1901 Census situation, we still need to get the word out to the many that do not have internet access.

In my opinion the Census Campaign and the distribution of petitions would not have been possible in any way were it not for the availability of the internet. No other way could we have reached the numbers of people that we have. It was due to the internet, more than two years ago, that I first became aware of the legislation that currently prevents release of identifiable information from Post 1901 Census. It was due to the internet, and mail lists to which I subscribe, that I became involved as one of a handful of people leading the campaign to have identifiable Census information released. I note this not in any way to "blow my own horn", but to demonstrate the strength of the internet in informing the public. There are many people out there, whose names you may likely never know, working behind the scenes to achieve our goal. Our thanks go out to each and every one of them.

How Have YOU 'Spread the Word'?

Robert Boynton, in a couple of emails to one of our committee members has made some observations.

"The point I am trying to make is that it would appear that this Census Petition is out there in Internet Land, and some people will assume that a lot is being done. But to connect with real life.

I think these or other suggestions on HOW people can actually PARTICIPATE, should be posted on all sites actively encouraging PARTICIPATION……….. If you have not done so already, it might be a good idea to make suggestions to people as to how they can get the Census Petition distributed as far and wide as possible, as it is very likely, a great proportion of people have never done anything like this before.

Here are a few suggestions, which I am sure can be added to:

    1. Take your Petition to work

    2. Ask your spouse to take a Petition to work

    3. Ask your children to take a Petition to work

    4. Ask your Family History Center if they will allow a Petition to be available at their reception desk

    5. Ask your local Library if they will allow a Petition to be available for signing and if they will allow you to set up a small table on weekends.

    6. Take the Petition to your neighbors

    7. Take a Petition to your children's or grandchildren's school and ask the teachers to sign

    8. Take the Petition to your Bank and ask the employee's to sign

    9. Carry a Petition with you at all times and ask anyone you meet to sign

    10. Ask your good friends to do the same!"

Other readers have made suggestions such as posting the petition on the bulletin board at your local supermarket, having one in the lobby of your condo or apartment block, taking them to meetings of your clubs, genealogy conventions, and Family reunions. Let us know how you are spreading the word and getting signatures on petitions. We need the assistance of each and every one of you.

A word of caution - when leaving petitions in what is essentially a non-tended location check back frequently to ensure they are still there. We do not want to lose any petitions that have been signed. One petition that I left in an RV park at the beginning of my trip in June and July had 'grown legs' and disappeared by the time I returned.

Time is Catching Up With Us

Time is getting shorter for getting signatures on petitions. By the time you read this we will only have about six weeks left before our deadline of Monday 11 October 1999. I would remind readers not to leave mailing petitions in until the last minute. Our postal system being what it is I would like to see petitions mailed by the 1st of October - no later than the 4th or 5th. There will be some preparation work on petitions received and I would like to have them on their way to MP Murray Calder and Senator Lorna Milne no later than 15 October.

To date I have received a few petitions, some with about 200 signatures and notes that there are more to come, and others with only a single signature. While every signature is appreciated and valuable to our cause, it would help if more than a single signature were included. I realize that some readers may be shut-ins that are unable to gather additional signatures and their single signatures will help every bit as much as anyone else's.

Petition Deadline Does NOT End Our Efforts

Sending in of the Petitions will not be the end of what we must do. It will take time for the petitions to be presented. In the meantime we must keep up our letter writing efforts to let our elected representatives know that we are serious in our concerns regarding release of Census information. By far the majority of MPs have yet to respond to the question of how they would vote on a Bill to release Census after a reasonable period. If you have not received a response from your MP, write again, asking why he/she has not responded to your original letter. If possible include a copy of your original letter with the new one.

Newspapers and Magazines Are Getting Involved

Thanks to the efforts of some of our readers, some newspapers and magazines are starting to write articles regarding Post 1901 Census. Some are coming on board due to letters to the editor or in some cases 'press releases' that readers have submitted. Holly McKenzie, our committee member for Manitoba, was recently interviewed by Maclean's magazine, for a cover story on the popularity of genealogy in Canada. It will be interesting to see what they have to say.

Article in Harrowsmith Country Life

Gwen Christie sent us the following article from the June issue of Harrowsmith Country Life. Thanks Gwen.

    A Lock on Our Past?

    Genealogists, historians and writers are up in arms over a piece of century-old legislation they say has created a blackout on Canadian history. They're fighting a law passed in the early 1900s - when Sir Wilfrid Laurier was prime minister - which denies access to census records collected after 1901.

    According to previous laws, 92 years after a census was taken, Statistics Canada would turn over the information to the National Archives to make it available to anyone who was interested. But Laurier's legislation decreed that all personal material contained in the 1906 and subsequent censuses would remain confidential forever. That means today's researchers are out of luck.

    The no-access rule has profound implications, considering the growing interest in genealogy in Canada (see "Planting the Family Tree", December 1998), and people with a stake in the matter aren't taking the situation sitting down. Hundreds of genealogists and historical researchers have written letters to their MPs, and over a thousand e-mails and letters have arrived at Statistics Canada demanding a retroactive amendment to the legislation.

    Now the matter is being discussed by a Senate committee after Senator Lorna Milne brought up the issue earlier this year in the Upper House. "Genealogy is not concerned with blue bloods and first families, but rather with the 'little people' who made up the backbone of this country", she told the Senate. "If we cut off access to information about the little people, then the only ones who will be written about will be the elite and the business tycoons of this country. This skew will become obvious in literature written about Canada.

    One option is to allow for a consent-to-release-information box on the 2001 census. However, information between 1911 and 2001 would remain sealed. Says writer and researcher Mary Soderstrom of the Writer's Union of Canada, "A blackout like this would only be a terrible disservice to our children."

                                                          - Heather Grace

Article in The Lethbridge Herald

Thanks to Ann Baines for the following article from page A3 of the 29 June issue of The Lethbridge Herald. The article was a result of a 'press release' that Ann submitted that gave the wording of the petition and locations in Lethbridge where it could be signed.

    Genealogists fighting for access to census records

    By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald

    Genealogists, historians and even hobbyist in southern Alberta are joining their counterparts across the country in their fight to change federal legislation.

    The legislation in question dates back to 1906 and permanently conceals from the public post-1901 census information. That means certain groups and individuals will not have access to census information normally available after 92 years.

    "For family history people or genealogists, the census really is sort of the backbone of the whole thing," explains Anne Baines, a member of the computer committee for the Alberta Genealogical Society of Lethbridge.

    Baines is one of many people supporting a petition calling on the government to amend confidentiality and privacy clauses of the Statistics Act sin 1906. The amendment would allow the release of post 1901 census reports after a reasonable amount of time starting with the 1906 census.

    "My family all comes from Canada so it really is essential I get those records," Baines says.

    The issue originated in the early part of this century by politicians who drafted and passed legislation to address fear that personal information would be distributed through the census. The concern was particularly keen because about the same time discussions on implementing income tax were heating up and people were worried the tax department would make use of information provided in a census.

    Even politicians less worried about that aspect of the issue support the legislation because they felt census records would be more accurate and valuable if citizens were confident the information wouldn't be made public.

    Genealogy is particularly important to religious organizations such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But genealogy is quickly gaining in popularity among individuals, as well.

    "It's one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world," says Marion Fleming, librarian for the AGS.

    And census reports are integral to the hobby.

    "It certainly is one of the many good leads for people trying to research their families,' Fleming says.

    Petitions are located at the AGS, 909 3 Ave. N., and at the Family History Center, 1910 10 Ave. S. The AGS will be closed after Wednesday for the summer but the FHC is open mornings Monday through Thursday and Saturday.

    Petitions from across Canada are to be presented in Parliament in October.

Canada Census Campaign Mail List

A reminder that the Canada Census Campaign Mail List has been set up as your forum to voice your concerns and voice your opinions about Post 1901 Census issues. Please feel free to post copies of your letters to MP's and their replies on this list. Anything sent to the list must be sent in Plain Text mode as the List Server will reject anything sent in Rich Text mode or that has attachments. To join the list send an email to

with only the word SUBSCRIBE in the body of the message. Do not include any signature lines or other text in the message or it will be rejected by the List Server. When posting to the list after subscribing send to

Passing Information On

Please feel free to pass on anything I write about Post 1901 Census issues, either in this column, or in postings to various mail lists, to wherever you feel it will further our efforts to obtain release of Census information. Please continue to send copies of your letters to MPs and their responses to myself at the email address below, and to our Webmaster at

so that we can continue to update our MP's Scoreboard.

As usual the latest information on the Post 1901 Census campaign, downloadable petitions, MP's Scoreboard and Correspondence Logs, Hansard excerpts, and back issues of this column can be viewed at

This site however can only be as up-to-date as the information we research or receive from you. Please keep us informed about what is happening in your area.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support. Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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