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Article Published September 10, 1999 Vol. III No. 16

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament.

Maclean's Magazine Publishes Post 1901 Census Article

One of our Post 1901 Census committee members, Holly MacKenzie, was recently interviewed by Maclean magazine regarding the popularity of genealogy research in Canada. She took the opportunity to explain the Post 1901 Census problem and it looks like someone listened.

Holly informs me that she has just heard from Maclean's and the issue is scheduled to sell starting next Monday (13th) and will have a cover date of September 20th. Barring any unseen major occurrences, everything should go ahead. Should the Third World War break out, it will be pushed back a week.

There will be a primary article on what is so attractive about genealogy and why genealogy is so big in Canada, and a secondary article about the Post-1901 Censuses. I think is great news. I look forward to see what they have to say. This is the first article on Post 1901 Census in Canada that I am aware of that will have been published by a NATIONAL publication. We do not yet know what the articles contain but let us hope that they accurately reflect the situation.

Recap of Post 1901 Census Problem

For the benefit of those who may be just coming on board regarding the Census problem and the Post 1901 Census Project Page it may perhaps be useful to recap the situation as I understand it.

Up to and including the 1901 Census in Canada, Census records were transferred to the National Archives (or the equivalent of the day) and were subsequently made available to the Public 92 years after collection. This was possible because clauses in the Privacy Act (or the equivalent of the day) allowed identifiable individual records to be transferred, subject to other legislation that might override the Privacy Act.

In 1906 the government of the Sir Wilfred Laurier, by Order in Council, introduced regulations which prevented release of any identifiable information from Census without the written consent of the person who provided the information. These regulations contained no time limitations.

From all that we today have been able to determine, the major reason for the new regulations being brought into effect was a fear by the population of the day (1906) that information from identifiable individual Census would be accessible and used by other Government departments for other purposes, i.e. taxation. Whether it was a concern about possible incoming Personal Income Tax, or some other form of taxation, i.e. on property or possessions, has yet to be conclusively identified . Nowhere have we found any indication that their concern was that identifiable information would be used by historians or genealogists 30, 60, or 92 years down the road. Nor have we so far been able to find documentation that indicated that respondents had been informed information collected by Census would be kept secret forever.

In 1918 the regulations were codified by the Borden government in the new Statistics Act. The pertinent clause of the new Act read, in part:
    "15 (1). No individual return, and no part of an individual return, made, and no answer to any question put, for the purposes of this Act, shall, without the previous consent in writing of the person…. be published, nor, except for the purposes of a prosecution under this Act, any person not engaged in connection with the Census be permitted to see any such individual return or any such part of any individual return."

The applicable clauses in today's Statistics Act read as follows (emphasis is mine):

Prohibition against divulging information

17. (1) Except for the purpose of communicating information in accordance with any conditions of an agreement made under section 11 or 12 and except for the purposes of a prosecution under this Act but subject to this section,
    (a) no person, other than a person employed or deemed to be employed under this Act, and sworn under section 6, shall be permitted to examine any identifiable individual return made for the purposes of this Act; and

    (b) no person, who has been sworn under section 6 shall disclose or knowingly cause to be disclosed, by any means, any information obtained under this Act in such a manner that it is possible from the disclosure to relate the particulars obtained from any individual return to any identifiable individual person, business or organization.

There are of course allowable exceptions to the rule. Section 17 continues, in part:

Exception to prohibition

(2) The Chief Statistician may, by order, authorize the following information to be disclosed:
    (a) information collected by persons, organizations or departments for their own purposes and communicated to Statistics Canada before or after May 1, 1971, but that information when communicated to Statistics Canada shall be subject to the same secrecy requirements to which it was subject when collected and may only be disclosed by Statistics Canada in the manner and to the extent agreed on by the collector thereof and the Chief Statistician;

    (b) information relating to a person or organization in respect of which disclosure is consented to in writing by the person or organization concerned;

    (c) information available to the public under any statutory or other law;

It is the emphasized portion of 2 (a) above that causes us problems today, i.e. information when communicated to Statistics Canada shall be subject to the same secrecy requirements to which it was subject when collected. This reflects back to the original wording of Clause 15(1) of the Statute passed in 1918. Because the clause contained no time limitations, Statistics Canada has taken the position that these records cannot be transferred to the National Archives and will remain secret FOREVER.

Unless we are able to persuade the government of today to make retroactive changes to the legislation WE WILL NEVER AGAIN SEE ANOTHER CENSUS RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC. This of course is catastrophic for historians and genealogists.

We can make a difference by writing letters to our MPs and Ministers expressing our dismay with this situation, and requesting that they make retroactive changes to the legislation to allow transfer of the records to the National Archives, and subsequently to the Public, after a reasonable period. Even though you may not be currently residing in Canada you have every right to write letters as well. Write them to:
    The Honourable John Manley
    Minister for Industry
    House of Commons, Parliament Buildings
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

    The Honourable Sheila Copps
    Minister of Canadian Heritage
    House of Commons, Parliament Buildings
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

    Mr./Ms. (Name of your MP)
    MP - (Name of your riding)
    House of Commons, Parliament Buildings
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

    The Honourable Lorna Milne
    The Senate of Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A4

A formal Petition to the House of Commons of Canada has been drawn up and has been circulated Canada-wide. This petition, for citizens/residents of Canada to sign, urges the Government of Canada to take whatever steps necessary to retroactively amend Privacy/confidentiality clauses of Statistics Acts since 1906 to allow Release to the Public of Post 1901 Census records after a reasonable period, starting with the 1906 Census.

This petition is downloadable from the Post 1901 Census Project page at

Available from the same website is a French Language petition, identical in content to the English version. These petitions will be presented to the House of Commons in October 1999.

After many requests from people living outside of Canada, a petition to be signed by citizens/residents of countries other than Canada, but having roots in Canada, is also downloadable. This petition has been worded to compliment the petition to the House of Commons and will be used as support in the Senate by Senator Lorna Milne.

Also available at this site are sample letters to write to Members of Parliament and the appropriate Ministers, excerpts from Hansard that detail efforts by Senator Lorna Milne in the Senate of Canada, to bring attention to this problem, and links to other websites that have information regarding the problem and our campaign.

There is a Scoreboard that lists all 301 Members of Parliament, their e-mail addresses, and shows how they would vote on a Bill to Release to the Public Post 1901 Census records. Click on your MP's name to bring up a correspondence log for him/her. The Scoreboard has been recently updated with further letters from MPs. Unfortunately most of these are from "fence-sitters". I encourage all to write to MPs who have responded expressing your satisfaction, or dis-satisfaction, with their position on how they would vote on a Bill to Release to the Public, Post 1901 Census information.

A mailing list has been set up to be used as a forum for genealogists and historians interested in Post 1901 Census issues. Everyone having an interest in Canada's Census information is more than welcome to join the list and participate in the discussion. To join this mailing list send an e-mail to
with ONLY the word SUBSCRIBE in the Subject line and the body of the message. Please do not have any other text, or signature files, in the body of the message, or the server will reject your e-mail.

Online Access to Canadian Statutes

I have recently done some surfing of Canada's Government websites. I have discovered a site where text files of various Statutes can be downloaded in their entirety. Included are Statutes that are of concern to us involved in the Post 1901 Census Campaign. They are the Access to Information, Privacy, and Statistics Acts. From the URL located at
you can link to the various Statutes. Links are in alphabetical order. While the downloads are in plain text, using your word processor to add some formatting makes them easier to read.

Together We Can Make a Difference

Richard Hirst, listowner for several mail lists, including Niagra-Ont, passed on the following from Fawne Stratford-Devai, Family Historian. This article demonstrates the power that Genealogists and Historians have when we work together. (Emphasis in the following article is mine)

    At last!

    Almost 3 years after the lobby and letter writing campaign was launched to demand reasonable exceptions for research purposes to the proposed Federal Copyright legislation and; more than 2 years after the bill amending the Copyright Act received Royal Assent, the sections of the Copyright Act which provide exceptions for archives, libraries, and museums (Sections 30.1, 30.2, 30.21 and 30.3) will be proclaimed in force on 1 September 1999.

    The lobby by genealogists across Canada and around the world, supported by historians, librarians and archivists was intense and asked only for a small exemption in the proposed legislation to allow photocopies for research purposes. As with the current campaign underway for release of post 1901 census records, the Bill C-32 lobby {copyright campaign} saw genealogists writing, faxing, emailing and phoning members of parliament, Industry Minister John Manley and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps <yes, these same Ministers were at the centre of the copyright storm also>.

    The good news today is quite simple....GENEALOGISTS HAVE A VOICE. The public CAN influence federal legislation. As long as the campaign is widely supported and carefully focused with everyone conveying the same message - we can make a difference.

    The actual regulations which specify the requirements for the implementation of certain aspects of the exceptions we asked for come into force September 1. The regulations were initially published in January 1999; however the final version contains only a few minor changes to provide clarification, or consistency in wording. The regulations are available on the Dept. of Canadian Heritage website:

    The timing of this final implementation of the exceptions demanded by the genealogical community is perfect. The lesson in this final outcome of the copyright legislation is quite clear - together we can make a difference.

    Average Canadians and our global colleagues with Canadian roots can make a difference. Now, more than ever, lend your voice to the ongoing campaign to open post 1901 census records. We have done it once, we can surely do it again. Please write those letters, distribute and sign those petitions, there is much hope!

    I am personally most grateful to Jean Dryden, Chair, Bureau of Canadian Archivists Copyright Committee; my genealogical colleague who helped to insite and maintain the letter writing - Ron Cox of Quebec - who also set up a wonderful webpage during the Bill C32 copyright campaign and; Jim Miller of the Canadian Historical Association. Quietly and without fanfare we shared information, set deadlines and plotted strategy. This behind the scenes relationship was vital in the ultimate success of the campaign.

    The briefs submitted and presentations made to the standing committee by the Canadian Historical Association, Librarians and the Archival community perfectly articulated the concerns of the genealogists. To these dedicated individuals and institutions I am also grateful.

    Even more importantly, I am so very grateful for the commitment and spirit of tens of thousands of genealogists across Canada and those from around the globe who shared our dismay, collectively articulated our concern; and showed their commitment in writing to demand change. The ultimate power and energy of the copyright campaign rests on the individual shoulders of thousands of people who wrote letters, sent faxes and emails and made phone calls --- the everyday researcher who cared enough to try and make a difference.

    September 1, 1999 is a victory day for the copyright campaign. Please take a moment and pat yourself on the back for a campaign well fought and a job well done. When you are done congratulating yourself, take a deep breath - pick up a pen -- and write a letter to demand access to Canada's post 1901 census!!!

    For those of you who were not a part of this first historic battle to be heard, pick up a pen and be a part of the current campaign to change federal legislation and access to post 1901 Canadian census records.

    With the most heartfelt gratitude and very best of wishes,

    Fawne Stratford-Devai
    Family Historian
    Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Our thanks to both Richard Hirst and Fawn Stratford-Devai for letting us know about this.

Boston States Genealogy Fair

Sharon Sergeant advises us that the Boston States Migration Workshop and Genealogy Fair will be held Saturday October 2, 1999. Location: Charles River Museum of Industry, Waltham, MA. Sharon has put a lot of work into organizing this event and will have many Guest Speakers and exhibits. There will be many opportunities for lookups, and many books available for purchase. Sharon has advertised the fair on a number of mail lists, and it has been mentioned in the Global Gazette. Full details of the fair can be found at the following URL.
What has not been publicized to date is the fact that for the many people attending, either visiting Canadians, or others having roots in Canada, the Post 1901 Census petitions will be available. Look for the Canadian Flag to find the petitions. Thanks Sharon.

Reprint of Interest

The following article appeared in Rootsweb Review, Vol. 2, No. 34, and is reprinted with permission of the author. While it does not specifically mention Census I feel it is worthy of passing on here. It demonstrates why we must keep up our efforts to have Post 1901 Census information open to the public, now, and for the future.

    by Jeff Scism, Flockmaster
    International BlackSheep Society of Genealogists
    "Really BAAAAD ancestors make great genealogies"

    Knowing where we are from is the first step on the road to where we will be. The search for personal history and its relationship to our personal lives makes history come alive. The lesson of genealogy isn't simply a knowledge of what happened in the past, but also what we know about our present. Now and in the future the history documented and saved for future reference will be the known events of our contemporary past. Our views from the end of the 20th century will be classical perspective at the end of the 21st century.

    To put the concept in perspective, think about your family research and the documentation you find about your 19th century ancestors. How does that information impact on the data you are saving about the lives of the members of your current family? To research the past and store that information for easy future retrieval will be the legacy of today's genealogist/historian. A greater legacy will be the way we store information about ourselves. Making the research of our family's past a priority now but failing to document our own involvement in current history is shortchanging the future.

    Think about your ancestors of the year 1900, or 1800, or any year in the past. How many of us can say we "know" these ancestors? How many of us have "living" documents of these ancestors? Wills, marriage certificates, and short newspaper notes are a poor "story" of a life spent. How many diary and journal writers were there in our collective past? What was our ancestor's view of events of his/her day? Knowing the regional history of an ancestor, and "milestone" events, can give an indication of where and why, but to have the story in his or her own words is a priceless insight into the person's life. Now, how many of us have an ancestor's actual autobiography written in his or her own hand?

    Right now you are a family historian studying the lives of all who came before you. Are you documenting your own life in a "hard" form for the genealogists of the future, so that in the year 2100 your great-great-grandchildren will be able to say they know you? Documenting your life the way you would want your ancestors to be documented is the first step to being the person your descendants will know from the past, and a journal of your thoughts on current events will be a marker and a reference valuable to many, not just your descendants.

    Make the year 2000 the year that genealogy unites past and present for the future. Document yourself.

MP's Scoreboard Totals

It had been my intention to show the names etc. of MPs who have responded to the question of how they would vote on a Bill to Release Census information. However it seems that each column that I write gets longer and longer. I will satisfy myself for this column by giving only the totals. I urge each of you to personally check the scoreboard yourself at
The totals so far:
    FOR:                    22

    FENCE-SITTER:      23

    AGAINST:              5

This gives us a total of 50 responses out of 301 Members of Parliament, leaving 251 who have not responded to email and letters from Global Genealogy or their constituents. Another possibility is that they have responded to their constituents who have not. in turn, let us know what those responses have been.

PLEASE - if you have received a response from your MP that you have not passed on to us, do it now. Don't wait for others to do it. If everyone does that then nothing will happen.

I challenge each and every MP who has not made clear their position on how they would vote on a Bill to Release Census information after a reasonable period, to do so now. Send your email to me at , or by snail mail to:
    Gordon A. WATTS
    1455 Delia Drive
    Port Coquitlam, BC
    V3C 2V9

At the time of writing this there have been more than 40000 visits to the Post 1901 Census Project page. If even 10 percent of those visits equated to a signature on our Canada wide petition it would certainly make the House of Commons, Minister John Manley, and the rest of our elected officials in Ottawa sit up and take notice. Let's shoot for a minimum of 25 percent.

Pass It 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.

Until next time. Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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