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Article Published October 27, 2000, Vol. IV No. 15
POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts, firstname.lastname@example.org
Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament
Federal Election Call
The effect of a Federal Election on our efforts remain to be seen. Depending on who forms the Government it could have either very little effect, or a very large effect. A worst case scenario would see us virtually starting over again. Likely after an election those Bills dealing with Census ( i.e C-312, C-484, and S-15) would have to once again be presented and started again from scratch.
At the very least there will be a number of changes in the players line-up and we will have to convince those new players to support our position on allowing access to Post 1901 Census. A good place to start on this would be meetings of candidates prior to the election.
John Manley Removed as Industry Minister
John Manley has been removed as Minister for Industry and Minister responsible for Statistics Canada. He has been replaced by former Premier of Newfoundland, Brian Tobin. From the point of view of those of us fighting to obtain access to Post 1901 Census records this has been a considerable disappointment. It had been felt that with the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census Records having been presented to the office of John Manley 30 June 2000, he and others would have been working behind the scenes to come up with something to deal with our concerns. While having no concrete evidence of such, it is felt that Mr. Manley favoured allowing access to Historic Census. There had been some feeling that we might have been reaching a point where we might see the "fruits of our labours".
With John Manley's replacement, that expectation will now be delayed. It is hoped that any work done by John Manley, and others, in seeking a resolution to our concerns about access to Census will be carried forward to the new Government, whoever that might be. It is not yet known
Bill S-15 Referred to Committee
Parliament was resumed after the summer recess with activity relating to Post 1901 Census taking place in both the House of Commons and the Senate. Senator Lorna Milne's Bill S-15 received second reading Tuesday 19 September 2000 and was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Full text of Senator Mabel M. DeWare's debate from Hansard will be available with the next update of files for the Post 1901 Census Project website, likely before this column is published. Senator DeWare supports Bill S-15, although with reservations.
Jason Kenney's Motion M-160
The final hour of debate of MP Jason Kenney's Motion M-160 took place on Wednesday 20 September 2000. The Motion states:
Motion M-160 had been deemed "votable" and was to be a "free" vote, i.e. Party leaders do not dictate how their members should (or must) vote. It was expected that the vote would be recorded in Hansard and so give us an indication of how those MPs who have not bothered to respond to our letters and email might vote on a Bill to allow access to Historic Census. While the vote on the amendment was recorded and passed, the amended motion was passed "on division", i.e. without a recorded vote. A true feeling of the MPs would not be revealed by the recorded vote of the amendment. A full compliment of Liberal MPs were out to vote in favour of the amendment, and the subsequent amended motion.
There is no compulsion on the part of the Government to act on a passed Motion although I am advised that they occasionally do. While Mr. Kenney's Motion, if passed without amendment, was unlikely to cause any drastic changes in the thinking of the Government, it would have served to give the feeling of the House thus encouraging the Government to submit a Bill to deal with the issue.
Report of Expert Panel Reviewed by John Manley ???
As I was writing this column I received a telephone call from Dr. Pamela White, Secretariat of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census. I had been trying by telephone to contact an Assistant to Industry Minister John Manley to verify whether or not Mr. Manley had as yet viewed the Report of the Expert Panel.
Dr. White advised me that The Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census was currently under review by Mr. Manley, and that as soon as it was released it would be posted to the Statistics Canada website. This was not the response that I was seeking and did not answer the question of whether or not Mr. Manley has actually viewed the report at this time. As of 12 August 2000 he had not.
Subsequent to the call from Dr. White I received a call from Paula Brennan, the Assistant to John Manley whom I had been trying to contact earlier. Ms. Brennan, responding to a direct question advised me that John Manley had, in fact, viewed the Report of the Expert Panel and was currently reviewing it. This finally provided the answer I sought. Mr. Manley has seen the Report.
As of 15 October 2000 Mr. Manley, despite numerous requests to do so, had refused to release the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census. He had given neither reason why he refused to release the Report, nor any indication of when he intended to do so.
Access to Information Request Made Twice - And Refused Twice
In an attempt to speed the release of the Expert Panel, on 12 August I submitted an Access to Information Request to Industry Canada, with them receiving it on 21 August 2000. Normally I should have had a formal response to my request within 30 days of receipt. I have, however, had my request returned to me as basically being out of the jurisdiction Industry Canada.
The Access to Information Act provides that if a request is sent to the wrong department, that department may transfer the request to the department to which it should have been directed in the first place, while retaining the original date of receipt. I pointed this out to the contact in Industry Canada but was advised that this could not be done. I have since reread the ATI Act and verified my opinion regarding this. I am have submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner regarding this but have not yet had a response.
I resubmitted my request to Statistics Canada and they received it Monday 18 September 2000. On Monday 16 October 2000 I received an email from Statistics Canada advising me that the Official response to my request was being mailed that day. They were advising my that my request was being refused on the basis that John Manley "intends to make the Expert Panel's report available to the public as soon as possible. It will be posted on the Statistics Canada web site; paper copies will also be made available on request."
Under ATI a request may be refused if the information requested is expected to be published within 90 days after the request is made. I am advised that this 90 days starts on the date my request was received. It remains to be seen if this refers to the date my first request was received by Industry Canada, or the date my second request was received by Statistics Canada. If the former, it would have to be released before 21 November. If the latter it would be released no later than 18 December.
Hints of Expert Panel Report Given
The bulk of this column was written some time ago but due to delay in the Gazette being posted, some revisions and additions were necessary. One of those additions is the following news article that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen 22 September 2000. My thanks to Elizabeth in Ottawa who brought it to my attention. Elizabeth has been very helpful in advising me of a few other articles of which I had been previously unaware. In any case, read on.
Panel recommends census data be public Information would not be available for 92 years By Jim BronskillA federally appointed panel recommends changing the law to make personal census data available to the public 92 years after it is collected.
An insider familiar with the panel's report says members have suggested deleting a provision of the Statistics Act that many argue prohibits disclosure of individual census answers.
Adoption of the measure would pave the way for eventual release of data from future population counts. For instance, personal data from the 2001 census would be accessible in 2093.
However, the recommendation could also extend to the release of at least some historical data collected by census-takers from 1906 onward.
George Radwanski, the interim federal privacy commissioner, confirmed as much during an appearance before a Commons committee yesterday. Mr. Radwanski told MPs he understands the five-member panel, whose report has not been formally released, advocates "simply reviewing previous legislation and making public that historical census data."
For years, historians, authors and other researchers could pore over census returns, which were transferred to the National Archives after 92 years.
However, that changed in the 1990s when Statistics Canada argued that legislation prohibits it from disclosing returns filed in 1906 and subsequent years.
Industry Minister John Manley, the cabinet member responsible for the statistics agency, appointed the expert panel, composed of four academics and a retired judge. The panel submitted its report to Mr. Manley at the end of June, but the minister's office has refused to make the document public.
Over the years census-takers have gathered increasingly personal information, touching on religion, fertility and, in the next census, sexual orientation.
In his first appearance before a Commons committee, Mr. Radwanski, whose appointment has yet to be confirmed by Parliament, warned against releasing census data gathered under promises of confidentiality.
He said that would be a "very, very unhealthy thing," adding "it's very important to address this in a way that does not violate undertakings." The Privacy Commissioner's Office has indicated it would not object to very limited access to the data for legitimate genealogical research.
The commissioner's office is also open to the idea of future census data being made available to the public as long as people were told their answers would be released at a later date.
However, the office believes the 92-year rule should be lengthened to ensure no personal census information about living individuals is released.
I read with great interest today's article by Jim Bronskill (OC 22 September 2000 - Panel recommends census data be public). It is indeed welcome news to many thousands of Canadians seeking access to Historic Census in order to find their ancestry.
Many welcomed Mr. Radwanski's appointment as interim Privacy Commissioner. It would appear, however, that he is following closely in former Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips' footsteps in referring to "promises of confidentiality" and "undertakings" that do not exist. Several months of intensive research by myself, and others, have failed to find any evidence that such "promises" or "guarantees" of never ending confidentiality of Census were ever made.
Statistics Canada, and former Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips have been asked several times to produce documentary evidence of their much touted "promise" and "guarantee" of confidentiality in perpetuity. They have been asked to prove me wrong in stating "The Promise does not Exist". To date they have been unable to do so. It is unfortunate that our elected representatives and government bureaucrats continue to disseminate information for which there is no documented evidence.
Industry Minister John Manley, despite many requests, continues to hold on to the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census. We call on him to immediately release that Report to the Public.
Gordon A. WATTS
A point of interest which I will make while I think of it. Many, if not all, of those apparently opposed to allowing access to Census records point to the increasingly intrusive nature of the questions asked. One might think that they would question the necessity for these "intrusive" questions to be included in Census, rather than seeking to suppress the records forever.
Environics Research Report Posted
At long last the Final Report of the Environics Research surveys relating to release of Historic Census has been posted on the Statistics Canada website. It has been posted as a downloadable PDF file that requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader that is available at many websites.
The report is 27 pages long and you will probably want to print it out for easy reading. Click
this link to download the Survey Report in English. The document in French is available here.
Titled "Canadian Public Attitudes Toward Options for the Release of Census Records", this report details the methods used and the interpreted results of six Focus Group sessions and two National surveys. It is not my intention here to duplicate the full report as downloadable from Statistics Canada. There are a number of sections in this report that may require some comment.
I have extracted some of the report and copied it below. Any emphasis of text in these extracts is my own, intended to bring your attention items I consider of interest. I encourage the reader to download and see the entire report in it's original context.
In November of 1999, Environics Research Group was retained to conduct public opinion research, including six focus groups and two national surveys, on the topic of the release of Census records. In my column of 7 July 2000 I dealt with the Report of the Focus Groups which is duplicated in the full report and so further comment regarding the Focus Groups will be limited at this time.
The focus group research consisted of six sessions, including two pilot sessions in Ottawa in December 1999, two sessions in Toronto in January 2000 and two sessions in Montreal in January 2000. The first session in each city was made up of highly-educated Canadians and the second session was composed of participants with mid-level education. All sessions included a mix of genders, age groups (all 18 and over) and some foreign-born participants.
The first National survey was conducted by telephone, between 28 March and 15 April 2000, among a sample of 2,020 adult Canadians. The second National survey was conducted by telephone, between 24 April and 30 April 2000, among a sample of 1.032 adult Canadians.
Section 2.0 of the Report stated:
Legislation in place is often interpreted to prohibit the release of individual-level census records for the 1906 and subsequent censuses. Genealogists, historians, and other have urged the federal government to permit the release of historical census records, arguing that the records have significant value as a source of information about Canada's past. Supporting the call for release of the data is the fact that individual-level census data from earlier censuses have been released without public criticism. As well, other countries, such as the United States, have made their individual census data available after a time delay. The time delay in other countries ranges between approximately 70 and 100 years. On the other side, the relevant issues include growing concerns about the privacy and confidentiality of individual records in the context of the promise made by the Canadian government of the day, that it would not release those data. Also, releasing these data may erode public confidence in the government and in Statistics Canada and impair the ability of Statistics Canada to carry out its census and other data collection activities in the future. In this context, the government has proposed two options for change. The first would involve allowing all census data collected in future censuses (2001 and forward) to be released after an appropriate time delay. Thus, Canadian residents who are completing their census forms in the future would know that their individual answers would be available to be released approximately 100 years or so hence. The second option would allow the release of 1906 and subsequent census data after an appropriate delay. Both options may involve changing the legislation to allow the eventual release of individual-level census data, but the second option is potentially more problematic for the government in that it might be seen as breaking a promise of confidentiality made to Canadians at the time the earlier censuses were taken. The public opinion research was undertaken to probe these issues. The focus group research explored and examined awareness of and response to the data release options and arguments for and against data release. It also examined the impact of changing the legislation on census and other data collection, including willingness to participate in a future census. All the focus group sessions included some testing of drafts of questionnaires for the first survey. The first national survey focused mainly on probing opinion on the arguments supporting the release of census data, focusing mainly on future data release, with one question on the retroactive release of individual-level data. It also explored the impact of changing legislation on census and other data collection, including willingness to participate in a future census. The second national survey focused mainly on assessing public support for retroactive legislation that would allow the release of historical census data, with two questions on future data release. It also examined the impact of a retroactive change to the legislation on data collection, including willingness to participate in a future census.
The major findings of the research are:
They were also informed that in the last census in 1996, all households provided information including, name, address, the relationship of people in the household to each other, date of birth, sex and marital status. Some households also provided information about disabilities, language use, places of work, citizenship, ethnic group, education, labour market activities, income and others.
5.1 Confidentiality of Census Information
When probed, just under six in ten Canadians (57%) believe Statistics Canada keeps personal census information, such as your name, address and answers, confidential. A significant proportion, 35 percent, do not think this information is kept confidential. Seven percent offer no opinion.
Better educated Canadians and those aged 18 to 29 are slightly more likely than others to think Statistics Canada keeps personal census information confidential.
5.2 Reasons to Release Personal Census Information
Respondents were told that some people think that personal census information, including an individual's name, address and answers on the census should be made available to the public after a time delay of approximately 100 years after a census is held.
When offered three reasons for the release of personal census information about 100 years after a census is taken, large majorities overall think all three are good reasons for the release of this information. The proportions who say each is a very good reason, however, vary between only 41 percent and 60 percent.
The most widely acceptable reason for releasing these data is so that descendants can learn about health status. More than eight in ten Canadians (83%) think it is a very good (60%) or somewhat good (23%) reason to release personal census information so that their descendants, such as grandchildren or other, might be able to trace through their family tree to learn the health status of their ancestors to help resolve some health issues that may arise in their family. Seventeen percent think this is not a good reason.
Tracing family ties is also a popular reason to release individual-level data. Eight in ten (79%) think it is a very good (50%) or somewhat good (29%) reason to release personal census information so that their descendants, such as grandchildren, might be able to learn who their ancestors were or learn something about the respondent that they couldn't find from other sources. Twenty percent think this is not a good reason.
More than seven in ten (75%) think it is a very good (41%) or somewhat good (34%) reason to release personal census information to that future historians can use the information to better understand Canadian society today. Twenty-four percent think this is not a good reason.
Atlantic Canadians are more likely than others to think that reasons dealing with benefits to descendants are very good reasons for the release of personal census information. Ontarians are more receptive than others to historical research, while Quebecers are less likely to think that any of these are very good reasons to release personal census information.
Less educated and less affluent Canadians are more likely than others to be receptive to reasons concerning benefits to descendants while older Canadians are more receptive to historical research.
5.3 Support for Releasing Future Personal Census Information
Three-quarters of Canadians (76%) say they strongly (41%) or somewhat (35%) agree with allowing their personal census information to be made available to historians, to those interested in family history and to the public, about 100 years after a census is held. Twenty-three percent disagree.
Residents of Atlantic Canada, British Columbia and Ontario are more likely than others to strongly agree with allowing their personal census information to be made available about 100 years after a census is held. Strong agreement is lower among residents of Saskatchewan and Quebec, and is higher among older Canadians.
Respondents were told that, at the present time, a law is in place that guarantees that an individual's name, address and responses to census questions are kept confidential by Statistics Canada.
When asked their opinion about changing existing legislation to allow for the release of future personal census, there is majority, but more tentative, support. Seven in ten Canadians (69%) strongly (32%) or somewhat (37%) approve of the government changing the law to allow the release of personal information 100 years after a census is taken. Thirty percent disapprove of this.
Strong approval of changing existing legislation is slightly lower in Saskatchewan, and slightly higher among older Canadians.
5.4 Release of Historical Personal Census Information
There is majority, but rather tentative, support for changing existing legislation to allow for the release of historical personal census information. When informed that the law guaranteeing the confidentiality of individual names and answers collected in the census has been in place for every census since the 1906 census, just under seven in ten (68%) strongly (31%) or somewhat (37%) approve of the government changing the law to allow the release of personal census information from past censuses after a delay of about 100 years. Thirty percent disapprove of this.
5.5 Impact of Legislative Change on Data Collection
When asked what would be the impact on aspects of data collection, including participation in the next census, if the government were to change the law so that their personal census information would be available about 100 years after a census was held, large majorities say that this legislative change would have no impact.
A total of 13 percent of Canadians say changing existing legislation to allow for the release of future census information would make them less likely to answer the next census. Another 18 percent say this would make them more likely to do this. A large majority of 68 percent say this legislative change would make no difference to their answering the next census.
A total of 11 percent say changing existing legislation to allow for the release of future census information would make them less likely to give accurate answers to the next census. Another 22 percent say this would make them more likely to do this. A large majority of 65 percent say this legislative change would make no difference to their participation in other Statistics Canada surveys.
A total of 15 percent say changing existing legislation to allow for the release of future census information would make them less likely to trust Statistics Canada. Another 22 percent say this would make them more likely to do this. A large majority of 65 percent say this legislative change would make no difference to their trust in Statistics Canada.
Albertans are more likely than others to say that changing existing legislation to allow for the release of future census information would make them less likely to do any of these things. Canadians aged 18 to 29 and those aged 60 and older and less affluent Canadians are slightly more likely than others to say the change will increase the likelihood of doing any of these things. Less educated Canadians are slightly more inclined to say this legislative change will make them more likely to answer the next census and to trust Statistics Canada.
Following the third question respondents were advised that "At the present time, a law is in place that guarantees that an individual's name, address and responses to census questions are kept confidential by Statistics Canada."
Questions four and five asked if respondents approved or disapproved of changing the law they had been advised about, to allow the release of personal census information 100 years after a census is taken.
The remaining four questions had to do with respondents opinion on the effects of changing the stated law on likelihood of answering the next census, giving accurate answers to the next census, participation in other Statistics Canada surveys, and degree of trust in Statistics Canada.
While respondents to this survey were told about a law that "guarantees" confidentiality, they were not informed that this law is subject to interpretation and is disputed by many. Even though six of nine questions related to the disputed law and the effect of changing it, I do not feel that there was excessive emphasis in the questions upon the "guarantee" aspect. In general, I feel that the questions asked were reasonable ones.
My assessment of the first survey is that a significant majority of Canadians agree with allowing access to Historic Census records, and that changing the law that "guarantees" confidentiality of Census would have little effect on the concerns expressed by Statistics Canada.
The Report continued:
At the beginning of this survey, respondents were again informed that a census is held every five years and the next one will be in 2001. Everyone in Canada is required by law to answer the census. They were also told that in the last census in 1996, all Canadians provided their name, address, the relationship of people in the household to each other, date of birth, sex and marital status. Some households also answered census questions about their disabilities, language use, citizenship, ethnicity, education, labour market activities and income.
6.1 Confidentiality of Census Information In this survey, a similar number, 54 percent, believe Statistics Canada keeps personal census information, such as your name, address and answers, confidential. A significant proportion, 38 percent, do not think this information is kept confidential. Eight percent offer no opinion.
6.2 Support for Releasing Future Personal Census Information
Without probing reasons for the release of data, the second survey finds less support than the first for releasing future data. Here, 55 percent of Canadians say they approve of this, compared to 76 percent who agreed, in total, in the first survey. Here, 43 percent disapprove, compared to 23 percent who disagreed with this data release in the first survey.
6.3 Release of Historical Census Information
In this second survey respondents were informed that since 1918, the Statistics Act has guaranteed that all personal census information is kept strictly confidential with no time limit on how long this information is to be kept confidential. In collecting past census information, Statistics Canada assured Canadians that their personal census information would never be released.
They were also told that historians and people interested in family and community history want the law changed so that personal census information collected on past censuses would be made available to the public after a delay of about 100 years.
After being told this information, and also informed that in order to release this past personal census information, the government will have to change the law that guaranteed this confidentiality, a total of 55 percent say they approve of the government changing the law to permit personal census information that was collected with a guarantee of confidentiality to be released to the public after about 100 years. A significant number (44%) disapprove of this. Again, support for this concept is lower in this second survey than in the first.
When respondents are presented with two points of view about the release of historical data, opinion is evenly divided. Just under one-half (49%) agree with the view that the government made a promise to Canadians that it would never release their personal census information and that the government should keep this promise. An almost identical number (48%) agree with the view that it is more important for historians and those interested in family history to have this information and that personal census information should be released even if it means changing the law.
6.4 Impact of Legislative Change on Data Collection
When asked what would be the impact on various aspects of data collection, including participation in the next census, if the government were to change the law to allow the eventual release of personal census information that it had guaranteed would remain confidential, majorities continue to say that this legislative change would have no impact. However, higher proportions in this survey than in the first survey, say they would be less likely to participate in, and accurately complete the next census, and more say their trust in Statistics Canada would drop. The question wording in the second survey, focusing on changing the legislation to allow the release of data that had been collected with a guarantee of confidentiality, can account for the change.
A significant proportion, 25 percent of Canadians, say changing existing legislation to allow for the release of historical census information would make them less likely to answer the next census. Only five percent say this would make them more likely to do this. A total of 69 percent say this legislative change would make no difference to their answering the next census.
Nineteen percent say changing existing legislation to allow for the release of future census information would make them less likely to trust Statistics Canada. Only seven percent say this would make them more likely to do this. A total of 62 percent say this legislative change would make no difference to their trust in Statistics Canada.
Questions one and two dealt with respondents belief on whether or not Statistics Canada keeps names, addresses, and answers on the census questionnaire confidential; and if respondents would approve or disapprove of the government in the future releasing their personal census information to the public after about 100 years.
Following question two, respondents to the second National survey were told:
Historians and people interested in family and community history want the law changed so that personal census information collected on past censuses would be made available to the public after a delay of about 100 years."
Every one of the last five questions made individual reference to "guaranteed" confidentiality or the "promise" purported to have been made to Canadians. It is my considered opinion that the undue emphasis of these disputed claims of guarantees and promises referenced in the questions was a deliberate attempt on the part of Statistics Canada to elicit predetermined responses - in this case negative ones. It is not surprizing that these questions received a lower percentage of positive responses than similar questions in the first survey that did not emphasize these disputed guarantees and promises. For the most part, however, the response to the questions was still positive.
Question four stated "Some people say that the government made a promise to Canadians that it would never release their personal information and that the government should keep this promise. Other people say it is more important for historians and those interested in family history to have this information and that personal census information should be released even if it means changing the law. Which point of view is closer to your own.?" 49 percent responded "Keep promise" while 48 percent responded "Release information"
The fact that 49% said "Keep promise" is hardly surprizing. On any given subject, if someone was first told that a promise was made (whether or not, in fact, it had been), then asked if that promise should be broken, most people would think that the promise should be kept.
The fact remains, as I have publicly stated many times, THE PROMISE DOES NOT EXIST, neither is there mention in any statute relating to any guarantee of Census confidentiality that lasts forever.
A Challenge is issued.
I have on numerous occasions requested of Statistics Canada and former Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips to show me the promise. I have asked for documented proof that the government of Sir Wilfred Laurier, in 1906, made a promise to the Canadian public that personal information from Census would never be released. I have asked to be shown the statute that contains the guarantee that confidentiality of Census information lasts forever. I am still waiting to be shown.
I have publicly stated that the promise does not exist. I have stated that no statute contains wording that guarantees confidentiality of Census forever. I have asked to be proven wrong and to be shown the proof that what I have said is not correct.
My challenge to Statistics Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, any Member of Parliament, any Senator, any bureaucrat, or any ordinary citizen, is this.
Canada Census Campaign Mail List
The Canada-Census-Campaign-L mail list was set up to provide a forum for those interested in obtaining release of Historic Census Records in Canada. It is not for look-ups or individual queries. Your comments and questions relating to release of Post 1901 Census records are welcome. Subscribe to the list by sending an e-mail to
With only the word subscribe in the subject line and the body of the message. Do not include any other text or signature files in the body of the message. To subscribe in Digest mode, change the ‘L’ in the address to a ‘D’.
Post 1901 Census Project website
Upgrading of the Post 1901 Census Project website continues. A new page containing links to Extracts of Hansard for the House of Commons, similar to that for the Senate has been added. Both pages are currently up to date. The Other Sites page has many new links added. These include among other things, links to Bills relating to Census. I am trying to keep the MP Scoreboard up to date but for that I need your assistance. Please keep sending responses to your letters and email to me.
Hopefully my next column will be dealing with the Report of the Expert Panel.
More Information On The Census Project
Until next time. Happy Hunting.
Gordon A. WATTS email@example.com