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Article Published Friday, November 12, 1999 Vol. III No. 22

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

On Monday 1 November 1999 I mailed to MP Murray Calder our Post 1901 Census petition to the House of Commons. I have requested Mr. Calder to advise me when it will be presented to the House. The petition contained 5649 signatures of those seeking release of Census records. The breakdown by province is as follows.
  • British Columbia 1513
  • Alberta 783
  • Saskatchewan 154
  • Manitoba 257
  • Ontario 1757
  • Quebec 610
  • New Brunswick 113
  • Prince Edward Island 99
  • Nova Scotia 406
There were no petitions received from Newfoundland.

5649 may appear to be a fair number of signatures for a single petition. However, when you consider that our petition was circulated from Coast to Coast, and that there is an estimated 7.5 million genealogists within Canada, it is not a great number. We can do better.

In searching Hansard recently I came across the fact that a petition opposing gun control had been submitted with almost 30,000 signatures. It may have been that this was a running total for successive petitions, however it shows that we have a long way to go before we break any records for numbers of signatures.

Need for petitions continues

We have not finished with petitions to obtain release of Post 1901 Census records. While it was necessary to have a deadline in order to obtain a reasonable number of petitions for presentation at one time, all deadlines for all petitions have now been removed. We are continuing to accept petitions for the foreseeable future, and will forward them periodically for presentation to the House and to the Senate.

New petition for Senate

A new petition has been drafted to be presented to the Senate. Up to this point there has been no petition to the Senate for signing by Canadian residents. This petition is an attempt to correct that oversight. The wording of this petition is identical to that of the one for the House of Commons with the exception that it is directed to the Senate of Canada.

It is expected that by the time you read this the new petition to the Senate of Canada will be added to the Post 1901 Census Project web site at Should that not be the case it may be obtained from myself at or Muriel Davidson at .

Handling Petitions

A word about the handling of petitions to either the House of Commons or the Senate. You may sign each petition only once, but having signed one does not prevent you from signing the other. Nor does it prevent you from signing a different petition having the same intent, i.e. one from another group having different wording. The top of each page must contain the "prayer" i.e. the part that requests Parliament to change legislation, etc., and the prayer cannot be altered by the crossing out or addition of words.

Petitions to the House of Commons, and the new petition to the Senate may be signed only by people residing in Canada. Government scrutineers will void signatures of anyone not living in Canada. People living in countries other than Canada may sign the Non-Canada petition which is worded to support the other petitions. It will be given to Senator Lorna Milne as support following second reading her Private Senator's Bill expected to be presented shortly.

Support for Senator Lorna Milne

Muriel Davidson has requested those directing letters and email of support for Senator Lorna Milne through her to please make the salutation of the letter or email to Senator Milne as follows:
    The Honourable Lorna Milne
    The Senate of Canada
    Parliament Buildings
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 0A4

    Dear Senator Milne:
Letters addressed in the salutation to Muriel are unable to be used by Senator Milne. Please include as well your full return mailing address. It will be seen only by Muriel, and Senator Milne and her staff.

The Promise - Revisited

In my last column I reported that I had questioned Ms. Louise Desramaux of Statistics Canada about three things regarding the promise of confidentiality in perpetuity. My request of her was as follows:
    "In regards to Census taken from 1906 to the present I wish to know the following: Specifically what clauses of what Acts spell out this never ending promise? The form (wording) of said promise of confidentiality in perpetuity. The specific means by which respondents were advised that said confidentiality would be forever. If possible I would like copies of such advice or references to where they might be found."
In responding to my various queries I have found Ms. Desramaux to be very helpful, and on returning from my recent trip I found the information she had sent waiting for my inspection. Included in this package were copies of the Census and Statistics Act (Chapter 68) of 1906, the Instructions to Officers, Commissioners and Enumerators for the Fifth Census of Canada in 1911, and a copy of the legal decision from the Department of Justice dated 22 April 1985 upon which Statistics Canada bases their refusal to transfer Post 1901 Census records to the National Archives. Ms. Desramaux made a point of informing me that this legal decision was subject to Crown copyright and as such I am prohibited from publishing it on the internet.

Suffice to say that I have studied with great care the documentation sent to me by Statistics Canada, as well as that I have found in the Vancouver Public Library, on the internet, and from other sources. I have found nothing in all of this documentation that refers to a promise of confidentiality in perpetuity.

More on this below in a letter I have written to the Editor of the Globe and Mail.

Globe and Mail Newspaper Editor Says "Change the Law"

On Thursday 4 November 1999 the Globe and Mail newspaper had a full page article (p. C1) titled "Erasing History" written by Graham Fraser. This was an excellent article describing the Census problem from a historical point of view. While too lengthy to copy here I would encourage everyone to seek out and read this article.

On Friday 5 November 1999 the Globe and Mail had two items of interest, the first being the lead editorial on page A18. I copy it here for you to read.
    Unlock the past
    for the sake of the future
    Granting access to ancient census data
    is a public good, not a personal harm

    Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips is a man with a mission.

    He wants to protect the personal privacy of Canadians - even those who are dead. He worries about the "struggle" to protect privacy "under the onslaught of new information technology." He's fond of pronouncements such as: "Human values, not technology, must drive the bus."

    It is reassuring to have a tenacious watchdog barking at electronic snoops and championing the passage of privacy legislation such as Bill C-6, which will require businesses to obtain individual consent before they collect, use or disclose personal information.

    Sometimes, though, Mr. Phillips is such a zealous defender of his mandate that he defies common sense. For example, he seems determined to safeguard the privacy rights of long dead citizens by preventing access to legitimate scholars trying to conduct research into our collective past.

    The case in point involves the 1906 census. Apparently, Sir Wilfred Laurier, the prime minister of the day, had made a pact with the fledgling provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan that the detailed data from the special census being conducted in 1906 would never become public.

    Nobody knowS specifically why he made the promise - perhaps it had something to do with cooling passions that were still inflamed over the Riel rebellions, or maybe he wanted to offer suspicious Westerners a sop to ease their entry into Confederation. Whatever the reason for the embargo, it became part of the Census and Statistics Act of 1906 and was rolled into its successor, the Census Act of 1918.

    More than 90 years have passed, yet the detailed surveys so important to historical analysis cannot be used unless the pertinent sections of the old act are repealed. This is a simple proposition, but, unaccountably, our privacy watchdog argues to keep the old detailed data secret. This serves no useful purpose and it makes the Privacy Commissioner look silly.

    The risks of making information available - whether it is giving health-care workers access to medical data or historians searching immigration and settlement patterns - must be weight against the benefits. Blanket embargoes in the face of vague concerns about what might happen if… are alarmist and counterproductive.

    Personal privacy threatens to become another bugaboo. Increasing use of the Internet for commercial transactions and the proposed introduction of smart cards in Ontario raise important issues about informed consent, the security of files and data processing and transmission. But the issues are not insoluble.

    Personal information should be protected to safeguard the identity and privacy of individuals, not to prevent social historians from drawing a portrait of the past based on detailed data about births, deaths and occupations. Making this information available from the 1906 census after 90 years is an opportunity, not a problem. Change the law.
Canadian Historical Association on board the Census Campaign

The third article of interest appeared on page A19 of the Friday 5 November 1999 issue of the Globe and Mail. It was written by Irving Abella, president of the Canadian Historical Association, and the Shiff professor of Canadian Jewish history at York University. We welcome the involvement of the Canadian Historical Society. They have managed to get the Post 1901 Census issue noticed by a National newspaper - something that to date we had been unable to do. Mr. Abella's article follows:
    Census secrets make no historical sense

    Canadian history is in a state of crisis, this time for a peculiar reason.

    At a time when Canadians are increasingly interested in their past, and private foundations such as the newly created Historica are committing millions of dollars to improve the teaching and dissemination of Canadian history, we may be barred from access to this history by some seemingly insignificant bureaucratic decisions in Ottawa. The most disturbing of these to scholars is the grievous problem of census materials.

    For some time, Statistics Canada has refused to transfer to the archives all 20th-century data, except those from the 1901 census. In his recent report to parliament, Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips apparently supports the decision not to let scholars look at any of the material gathered over the past 100 years.

    While the Canadian Historical Association appreciates the concern of the Canadian government regarding census data, as it seeks to find a balance between legitimate privacy interests and the right of the Canadian public to conduct research into its past, Ottawa must realize that census material is an essential building block for historical inquiry by researchers, professional and amateur, and by a vast number of genealogists.

    The availability of the 1891 and 1901 census materials is a case in point. These records - anonymous responses concerning housing, health, income and general social conditions - have been of tremendous benefit to understanding our country, and a vital source for individuals and communities searching for their roots.

    The only difference between the 1901 census and the 1906 or 1911 Census es is a legal technicality in an outdated piece of legislation. The government of Wilfrid Laurier promised that information collected in the 1906 special western census would be acquired in confidence - a promise codified in 1918 to apply to every census thereafter. In other words, the Privacy Commissioner proposes to keep the 20th-century censuses closed based on the wording of an 81-year-old statute passed in another time, with entirely different notion of the state, public policy, research and government accountability. This stance appears to violate both the letter and the spirit of the Privacy Act's regulations, which allow for the release of census materials 92 years after the census was taken.

    Much has changed since 1918, especially in the past quarter-century, as evidenced by the passage of laws on access to information and privacy. All kinds or records for which Canadians were promised confidentiality, and which contain far more sensitive personal information than census data, have in due course been transferred to the national Archives and released for research, without any public outcry. Military medical records are one example, as are RCMP and CSIS records, which, though acquired from Canadians in confidence, have been transferred to the archives to be released according to Access to Information and Privacy Act regulations.

    Even the release of the 1891 and 1901 censuses by the National Archives provoked no protest or intervention by privacy advocates. No Canadian has complained that his or her family's privacy was violate by allowing thousands of researchers to use those records.

    In his report, Mr. Philips note that Australia has chosen to destroy all census material. That decision reflects Australia's special concern about its convict immigrant past. The experience of the United States, our closest neighbour in the matter of public policy, is much different; the American government releases comprehensive census data, with much public fanfare, after only 70 years.

    Statistics Canada has developed two possible options for resolving the census impasse. One is to amend the Statistics Act to allow all post-1996 census records to be transferred to the care and control of the National Archives of Canada. The other is to amend the act to allow all post-1901 census material to be transferred to the archives. In both cases, the release would be governed by the Privacy Act and its regulations, in particular the 92-years waiting period.

    The first option, which would bar Canadians from their documentary heritage for the censuses of the 20th century, is unacceptable. To close all comprehensive census materials gathered from 1906 to 1996 would deliver a blow to humanities and social-sciences research in this country from which it would never recover. These materials are crucial to our understanding of 20th-century Canada.

    There is only one acceptable option: Amend the Statistics Act to make it consistent with the National Archives of Canada Act, the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act and their accompanying regulations. This amendment must apply to all censuses from 1906 to 1996 (and thereafter) and be made effective before the 2001 census is printed and distributed.

    The change would permit the immediate transfer of all census raw data in microfilm to the custody and control of the National Archives, and the maintenance of the electronic version of all post-1991 censuses according to the archives' criteria governing disposition and preservation. This material would then be made available to the public on a regular and continuing basis in accordance with the strict provision of the Privacy Act's regulations. It is worth noting that the Information Commissioner has endorsed our proposal.

    This solution is not, as Mr. Phillips presents it in his report, the threat of a special interest lobbying group trying to thwart a fundamental promise made to Canadians. Rather, it is an attempt to remove a legal technicality that thwarts the balance laid out in the Privacy Act, whose regulations reflect the will of Canadians as expressed through their parliamentarians. It is had to understand why the Privacy Commissioner wishes to use an 81-year-old legal technicality to block release of information to which Canadians are entitled under modern laws and regulations.

    At a time when more and more Canadians are expressing concern about the teaching and researching of Canadian history, it would be foolhardy to rob them of the opportunity to learn as much as they can about their fellow Canadians earlier in this century. Our history, and ultimately our identity, would be needlessly endangered.
Letter to the Editor of The Globe and Mail

The following letter to the Editor of the Globe and Mail was in response to the "Erasing History" article and the editorial above. At the time of writing I was unaware of the article of Irving Abella. To date it has not been printed and I have not been contacted for verification by the G&M.
    5 November 1999
    The Globe and Mail.

    Dear Sir or Ms.

    I read with interest the full page article titled "Erasing History" (G&M, 4 Nov., p. C1), and the subsequent editorial titled "Unlock the past for the sake of the future" (G&M, 5 Nov., p. A18). While gratifying to see the Canadian Historical Association on board it was disappointing to see no mention of another group who have been seeking to obtain release of Post 1901 Census records for almost three years. Unlike the CHA, they have no formal organization and no official standing and it has been virtually impossible to get the media to take note of this situation until now.

    I refer to a handful of concerned genealogists across Canada who have been working via the internet, encouraging others to sign petitions, write letters to the media, to MPs, to Ministers Manley and Copps, and to Senator Lorna Milne. It is largely due to the efforts of this group, and those who followed their lead, that Minister Manley sought and received from Statistics Canada the two options referred to in the article "Erasing History". While the identity of this group is of little importance, the fact that there are an estimated 7.5 million genealogists within Canada is important. There is likely at least a similar number of people living in other countries that have "roots" in Canada. These genealogists seek to use information from Post 1901 Census to further their search for their ancestry, for their heritage. They have no sinister motive for seeking the release of Census. They simply want to know about their family.

    Information from Census provides names and relationships, birth dates and places, locations of homesteads, occupations, schooling, religion, countries of origin, immigration, etc. Much of this information is available from no other source in existence. It is precisely because of this information that Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips would have Census records destroyed, or hidden forever.

    I have studied a number of documents relating to this matter, including the Census and Statistics Act, R.S.C. 1906 (Chapter 68); the 1906 Proclamation directing a census of population and agriculture for the Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (Canada Gazette 21 May 1906, Orders in Council); Instructions to Officers, Commissioners and Enumerators for the Fifth Census of Canada in 1911; The Statistics Act (Chapter 43) assented to 24 May 1918; the consolidated online versions of the current National Archives of Canada Act, Access to Information Act, Privacy Act, and Statistics Act; the Census forms of 14 May 1996; and the 1985 legal opinion from the Department of Justice upon which Statistics Canada has based their decision not to transfer Census records to the National Archives. While I am by no means a lawyer, I personally see nothing within any of these documents that would preclude the transfer of Post 1901 Census records to the National Archives and their subsequent release to the Public.

    Regulations in the Privacy Act allow the National Archives to release census and survey results 92 years after collection. The 1998-99 Annual Report of the Privacy Commissioner states "The barrier to access is the Census and Statistics Act of 1906 and several subsequent laws, all of which prohibit Statistics Canada from disclosing personal census information to anyone - including the National Archives." I submit that this is a matter of interpretation.

    It is true that the Census and Statistics Act of 1906 and subsequent legislation have clauses that restrict release of identifiable, individual information from Census. These clauses are worded in the present tense. There are no time limitations mentioned in the documents researched. There are no clauses that specifically allow transfer of Census to the National Archives, and no clauses that specifically prevent that transfer. There is simply silence on the subjects of time limitations to confidentiality and transfer of records to the National Archives.

    In my limited experience I have understood that when one piece of legislation is silent on a particular subject while another piece of legislation is not, the legislation that is not silent would govern. In this case clauses in the Privacy Act allowing transfer of Census after 92 years should govern.

    Statistics Canada has made much of a promise of confidentiality in perpetuity regarding the Census since 1906. In regards to this promise I requested from Statistics Canada to know three things. These were "Specifically what clauses of what Acts spell out this never ending promise. The form (wording) of said promise of confidentiality in perpetuity. The means by which respondents were advised that said confidentiality would be forever." While Statistics Canada was very cooperative and sent me some documentation, they were apparently unable to provide specific answers to my specific questions. It would appear that this promise of confidentiality in perpetuity exists only in the minds of those who wish it to be.

    Respondents to Census are of course entitled to privacy. I would suggest however they are concerned about that privacy in the present time, not 30, 60, or 92 years down the road. In our research regarding Post 1901 Census we have found no indication that Privacy concerns of the day had to do with descendants seeking family information. To the contrary, concerns seemed to center on the possibility that other Government departments would use Census information for their own purposes, i.e. taxation, military service, school attendance, the regulation of immigration, or the enforcement of laws.

    Even today, Mr. Phillips, in his address to the Senate 18 February 1999, indicated that one of the major complaints received by his Office was that of cross indexing of personal information between different Government departments. He made no mention at that time of any complaints regarding release of personal information from Census 92 years after collection. Both Statistics Canada, and the National Archives have indicated they have received not a single complaint of this nature.

    Those who wish more information, including downloadable petitions, sample letters, and a correspondence log and scoreboard for MPs position on release of Census can visit the Post 1901 Census Project website at . Additional information is available at I can be contacted by e-mail at . Thank you.

    Gordon A. WATTS
Tired of writing letters? -- Send a postcard

Lynda Andrew, President of the Saskatoon Branch of the Saskatchewan Genealogy Society, has suggested because many people dislike writing letters, a campaign using pre-printed postcards may be productive. This is an excellent idea with only one drawback - the cost of producing the postcard.

The Canada Census Campaign Committee is a small group of concerned genealogist from across the country who, for the most part, have never met. We have no official status and are not funded in any way. We could therefore not provide any postcards.

This is not to suggest, however, that the use of post cards cannot be utilized. If the various genealogical societies wished to supply cards for their members or others, or if individuals sent their own postcards, it could have an effect. It is worth a try!!

I would suggest that the postcard, addressed to your MP, or Minister of Industry John Manley contain a single line such as:
    "I support release of Census records to the Public after a reasonable period!"


    "I support release of Census records to the Public 92 years after collection!"
Be sure to include your full name and return address.

Senator Lowell Murray says to hell with historians

The following excerpt was taken from Hansard Senate Debates of Thursday 4 November 1999.

The remarks were made by Senator Lowell Murray while debating second reading of Bill C-6 "Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Bill" The article referred to was titled "Erasing History" and was found on page C1 of the 4 November 1999 Globe and Mail newspaper.

The excerpt states:
    "By the way, honourable senators, there was a lengthy article in The Globe and Mail this morning dealing with attempts made by the history industry to overturn the commitment that Sir Wilfrid Laurier had written into the law to protect census data.

    I know that Senator Milne has a view about this. Many historians wish to get their paws on personal data that was given in confidence to the census takers since, I believe, 1906. The historians are arguing vigorously in favour of removing that restriction. Mr. Phillips, the Privacy Commissioner, is arguing just as vigorously against removing that restriction.

    Let me say that I agree with Mr. Phillips. If my grandfather or great grandfather gave personal information to the census taker on the basis of the commitment made by Sir Wilfred Laurier, I believe that that should be respected. I certainly would not want Michael Bliss or Ramsay Cook pawing over all that information and coming to their own tendentious and highly prejudicial interpretations of the data. I say long live Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Bruce Phillips and to hell with these historians."
Possibly Senator Murray would appreciate some letters regarding his opinion of historians (and genealogists). His email address is

In fairness to Senator Murray, however, I must report that in a reply to a concerned individual the Senator indicated that his comment about historians was made "tongue-in-cheek" but confirmed that he was firmly against the routine release of the Census. He acknowledged the legitimate interests of genealogists and indicated a willingness to evaluate safeguards and restrictions that might allow limited access. His bottom line, however, was that in any clash of values he would give the benefit of the doubt to privacy over access.

Whether or not his remarks were truly made "tongue-in-cheek" remains to be seen. The written word does not convey facial expressions or voice inflections and as such must be taken at face value. One thing in Senator Murray's favour however, is that he appears to be responding quickly to his correspondence - something that many Members of Parliament would be well to take as an example.

A little humour

It is a very poor cause that cannot be bettered with a little humour. As a result of the posting regarding Senator Murray's comments Don Nisbet sent the following open letter to the Canada-Census-Campaign mail list. It is printed here with permission.
    My dear honourable Senator Murray:

    Sir, I commend you for your courage. I can tell you that I have come face to face with this monstrous race of men called "Historians", a more evil and powerful group of men I had never before laid eyes on. I admit to you that I lacked the courage to resist these fearful wrong doers. But not so you Sir. You have given me new hope they may yet be stopped from their predations against our innocent great-grandfathers and their secret lives.

    I assure you sir I have never laid eyes on any of the 1906 census records. But I have heard whispers of the dark secrets that lie within. Sir, they forced my own great-grandfather to divulge the number of chickens he owned and, please sit down Senator, they asked him his SEX. He was never the same afterward, a broken man really. He lived the balance of his life in a state of constant fear that such information should one day be revealed. He never confessed his answer to that sensitive question and I wonder to this day whether he marked an M or an F.

    I have another confession to make. I often think of your great-grandfather and I can tell you quite honestly that others do as well. I fear Sir because I am a proud man that your great-grandfather may have owned more chickens than mine. No doubt he did, your family obviously being of more substance than mine, but I dread the day it may be revealed. Not so much for my sake but for that of the children. You know how cruel children can be and when these highly secret documents are released my poor children will no doubt be subjected to ridicule.

    I have also been told by sources which I cannot reveal that not only do Michael Bliss and Ramsay Cook plan exposes on your great-grandfather when the information is released but that the National Post and Globe and Mail intend front page stories where all the Murray family secrets of 1906 will be revealed to all. You can't blame them really--your family secrets have long been on the mind of the Canadian people and the public appetite for this will be insatiable.

    Fight on, brave Senator Murray, fight on. We have only you between us and the forces of darkness. I salute you.
Another petition presented to Senate

Senator Lorna Milne, on 2 November 1999 presented another petition to the Senate. This one, containing 100 signatures, was from a branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. While worded differently than our petitions it had the same goal - that of the release of Census records to the Public.

Post 1901 Census Project web site presented an award

Juliana S. Smith, Editor of Ancestry Daily News wrote:
    In recognition of excellence in providing the genealogical community with this valuable research site, is happy to announce that your site for the Post 1901 Canadian Census Project has been awarded the "Family History Favorite Award". Your site will be featured in Friday's Ancestry Daily News, and Saturday's Weekly Digest with a brief description, as well as in an upcoming issue of Ancestry Magazine. If you are not currently a Daily News subscriber, you can view the article online at:

    At the bottom of this email, you will find the HTML code for the award that you can insert in your page if you so choose. Simply copy and paste it into your web page.

    Congratulations on a job well done!

    Best wishes,

    Juliana S. Smith
    Editor, Ancestry Daily News
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