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Article Published July 14, 2001

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

Census Day 15 May 2001

The day for "counting yourself in" has come and gone. Census 2001 provoked a number of complaints, many of which Statistics Canada had encountered in previous Census collections, and which they claimed to have remedied. Enumerators living next door to those they were supposed to enumerate. No delivery of forms. People being told forms were not delivered because the enumerator had another job that took precedence over delivering forms. At least one individual complained about being identifiable because they were the only one having a specific postal code.

With the encouragement of the Canada Census Committee, many respondents included a letter of protest that was downloaded from the Post 1901 Census Project website, or composed their own. Respondents were encouraged also to utilize the "Comments" section of the Census forms to voice their support for public access to Historic Census records. Unfortunately it is unlikely we will ever know how many of these complaints actually made it through to Chief Statistician Ivan Fellegi.

It would appear that someone has done more than complain about questions asked on the long form of Census. According to MP Peter MacKay (Pictou - Antigonish - Guysborough), speaking during question period in the House of Commons on Friday 18 May 2001, a class action suit was filed against the crown on Thursday 17 May. This suit claims that the long form of the census violates a person's right to privacy and discriminates against 20 percent of the population. It is my understanding that in the US, the 2000 Census was to be the last one on which they use a long form questionnaire. Perhaps it is time for Canada to follow suit and return the Census to what is was intended - an enumeration of the population.

It is difficult to tell what affect such a suit, and how it turns out, would have on our efforts to regain public access to Historic Census. It could have little effect, or the effect could be disastrous. If anyone has seen any newspaper accounts about such a suit against the crown I would appreciate receiving a copy of it, or being advised where I might obtain it.

"No consensus on the census"

This was the headline of an article by David Swick in the Halifax Daily News of 8 May 2001. As I have included in previous columns articles supportive of our efforts to regain public access to Historic Census, so will I copy his non-supportive article at this time. Mr. Swick has done his readers no good service in writing this article, filled with partial truths. His article gives the impression that Statistics Canada, of its own accord, wants to give cart blanche access to personal information from current Census records, but is prevented from doing so by his apparent hero, the Privacy Commissioner. He would have done better to do some additional research in order to write an article truly representative of the facts.

One of our supporters, Mary Ann Bohaker, was so incensed with Mr. Swick's article she wrote him a letter in response. It is copied, with permission, below Mr. Swick's article. Mary Anne's own words express how she felt in posting her letter to the Canada-Census-Campaign mail list.

    "I am so mad right now I could (fill in the blank). David Swick's column in today's Daily News had me running for my e-mail."
Mr. Swick's article reads as follows:
    Information may not be as confidential as you think

    Before you count yourself into the census, you should know that your information may not remain so perfectly secure as you think. Statistics Canada is not yet allowed to release your most private information - but not for lack of trying.

    Two years ago, the ministry of industry asked Statistics Canada to look at ways legislation might be amended to allow access to individual census returns. Rather than reject the idea outright, Statistics Canada prepare two options: amending the Statistics Act to allow access to the 2001 and all subsequent censuses, or simply amending the act retroactively to override the confidentiality provisions.

    Both options were opposed by our national privacy commissioner, and have faded away - at least for now.

    The privacy commissioner is our nation privacy ombudsman. Until recently, the office was held by former TV news journalist Bruce Phillips; now it's George Radwanski. Both have expressed serious concerns about the census.

    For more than 100 years, Canadians have dutifully answered more and more invasive census questions, based on the belief that the information is needed to calculate transfer payments, draw electoral boundaries and other mundane matters.

    So why all the questions about race, religion and sexuality? These have nothing to do with transfer payments and electoral boundaries.

    We are nice Canadians. We think our government could never really go insane. Yet reducing people to their characteristics can be a way of denying people full humanity. Is it really necessary, and a good idea, for the government to know exactly who is Jewish, or gay or Pakistani Chinese?

    The census asks for very private information in a very nice way. Unlike your income tax form, nowhere on the census form does it say it's an offense to throw it away or fill it out incorrectly. Only 63 per cent of Americans participated in their last Census; in Canada, it's 97 per cent. It's an expensive operation. This census will cost upward of $500 million. That's a lot of cash, but then Statistics Canada is a major money-maker. It sells all the census info it can - except your name and address - to a full range of corporate clients.

    If you share the concern that the census is unnecessarily invasive, here's good news; you don't necessarily have to fill out all the questions.

    "We prefer a questionnaire that is fully answered," says Benoit Laroche, census manager for Statistics Canada in Ottawa. "But if only one ore two questions are missing on the short form, we'll let it go."

    Non-answers are permitted for practical reasons. People so often miss a question that expecting full compliance is impossible.

    Five years ago those with the long questionnaire were allowed to leave six questions unanswered. "This time we'll allow a bit more that that." Laroche said, "But editors will use the table applied, whish (is too complicated to describe on the phone)… If 10.000 people in Dartmouth don't answer the same question, we have a problem. But if there is no systemic pattern of non-response, we'll accept it."

    In other words, feel free to choose any seven questions on the long form, or any two on the short form, and leave them blank. If the census comes back to you for those answers, deal with that then. But chances are they won't bother.

    In the Privacy Commissioner's 1999-2000 annual report, the commissioner urged for privacy legislation that applies to the federal public sector. He argued that it "imposes less rigorous standards on government than the new private sector bill does on Canadian business. "New rules, he said, are "urgently needed to protect Canadians against a well-meaning, but sometimes overzealous state."
Here is Mary Anne's reply to Mr. Swick. I think it unlikely that it was printed; otherwise I would have been notified about it.

    Dear Mr. Swick,

    I was most dismayed and disappointed to read your column of May 8th regarding the question of confidentiality versus release of Canadian census data.

    The first three paragraphs give the reader the impression that our government, all of its own accord, tried to convince Statistics Canada to release any and all census data to anybody who asked for it at any time regardless of any privacy concerns. This could not possibly be a greater misrepresentation of the purpose of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census Records.

    The Panel was appointed by then Minister of Industry John Manley after several years of lobbying by a nationwide group of dedicated genealogists, historians, librarians, researchers and others who are concerned by the loss of access to and possible destruction of the Canadian census records.

    Until 1993 it was government policy to transfer to the National Archives the original census forms, which were microfilmed and released for public research purposes 92 years after the data was collected. That is, in 1993 the National Archives mad the 1901 census data available. Under this policy the 1911 Census would have been made available in 2003.

    Statistics Canada has since take the position that a 92-year waiting period is not sufficient to protect the privacy of the respondents; rather, they believe that all census data collected since 1901 must remain confidential FOREVER.

    Researchers across the country naturally disagree with this idea. Believing that the census is a unique and invaluable record of the everyday lives of ordinary Canadians, many of us have written to Statistics Canada, the Minister of Industry (currently, The Hon. Brian Tobin), the Minister of Heritage, the Prime Minister, our Members of Parliament, and the Honourable members of the Senate to protest the decision of Statistics Canada to deny access to this very important part of our heritage.

    No one has at any time suggested that current census data be released. What we are asking is that the government continue its long-standing policy of making historic census data available after 92 years, as has always been the case.

    In Great Britain census data is released after 100 years, in the US the waiting period is 72 years. In neither country has there ever been a single complaint from anyone regarding any concern over the privacy of people who fill out these forms nearly a century ago. Until recently it had been the policy of the Australian government to destroy their census data without making it available for research, a policy which the Australian people are now coming to regret.

    I refer you to the website for further information on this very important debate. Click on "What's it All About" for a complete overview of the government's position and ours. I, along with thousands of other Canadians, will be enclosing a letter of protest with my completed census form this year. It is a great irony that one of the long-standing questions asks us for information about our racial/ethnic heritage; a question which, without access to historic records, some of us might not be able to answer. I strongly urge you to inform yourself regarding both sides of this debate. I regret that you accepted Statistics Canada's position on this issue without question and published misleading information in your column.

    Mrs. Mary Anne Bohaker
    Halifax, NS
A great letter Mary Anne.

Mr. Tobin, Are you out there somewhere?

In my last column I copied an e-mail I sent to Industry Minister Brian Tobin on 26 March 2001. This email questioned the fact that, contrary to his News Release of 15 December 2000, members of the Access To Information Act Review Task Force had advised us that a review of the Post 1901 Census issue, with subsequent recommendations, did not form a part of their mandate.

As of the date of this writing, I have received neither response to, nor acknowledgment of receipt of, my message. Subsequent to this e-mail, I sent another message, complete with copies of the first, requesting that Mr. Tobin respond to questions raised in the attached e-mail. In addition, I requested copies of all communications between himself, Statistics Canada and Justice Canada relating to any review of the Census issue by those bodies reviewing the Access to Information and Privacy Acts. This message was sent by e-mail, with copies sent by fax sent direct to his office, and Canada Post.

Considering that I have seen many messages of acknowledgment come from the office of Mr. Tobin that were sent within a day or two of the original message being sent, one might wonder why I have received nothing in response to my messages. Do I have 'cooties'? Or have I been placed on a 'black list' by the office of Mr. Tobin - such as the one I am on for the Office of the Minister of Heritage, Sheila Copps?

MP Murray Calder (Liberal, Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey), our champion in the House of Commons, on 7 May 2001 sent a letter to Mr. Tobin requesting clarification of the stated review of the Census issue. He has additionally requested copies of Mr. Tobin's responses to my messages. It is to be hoped that Mr. Calder's letter will get a better response that mine have so far received. At this point I am unaware of any response or acknowledgement that may have been received by Mr. Calder's office.

Mr. Tobin, are you listening??

Committee Hearings on Bill S-12 delayed.

I recently received a message from Jeff Paul, Legislative Assistant to Senator Lorna Milne. The purpose of this message was to inform me that they had been advised by Senator Michael Kirby, the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, that due to a heavy workload, hearings relating to Bill S-12 would not be held until the fall. It was indicated that these hearing would be held in conjunction with a mandated review of the Privacy Act. I have not been aware of such a 'mandated review' of the Privacy Act and will be checking further into this.

While understandably disappointed with further delay, possibly this may be a small blessing in disguise. While in Ottawa to attend the roundtable discussions related to the ATIA review, Senator Milne advised me that she had placed my name on her list of witnesses to testify before the Committee hearings. This delay will give me additional time to prepare my presentation to the Committee.

In the meantime, your assistance by writing members of the Committee, encouraging them to support Bill S-12 and to not drag out and further delay discussion and passage of the Bill, is requested. The members of the Committee, and their email addresses are listed below.

Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs Science & Technology: To contact Committee members by snail mail, address your letters to

    Hon. Senator (name)
    Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology Parliament Buildings Wellington Street
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Canada K1A 0A4

My trip to Ottawa

While in earlier columns I have reported on the roundtable discussions of the ATIA Review Task Force, I have said little about the remainder of my stay in Ottawa. I stayed a total of five nights there, two of which was paid for by the government. I arrived in Ottawa on Friday night and got settled into the Travelodge Hotel, about two blocks from the National Library and Archives, and four or five blocks from the Parliament Buildings. This was a convenient walking distance as I did not rent a vehicle for getting around in. I made telephone contact with Lyn Winters and made arrangements to meet him on Saturday afternoon. After that I wandered around the area for awhile looking for somewhere to have a later supper.

Saturday morning I wandered around doing a little sightseeing, and getting oriented. Lyn and his lovely wife Janet picked me up after lunch and took me on a tour of the area. We covered the Rockcliffe area where many of the Diplomatic residences are. There were many impressive homes there. The one that stood out most in my mind was not that of any Diplomat, however, but was one belonging to the former head of Corel Corporation. Unfortunately I did not think to take a picture of it.

Following a tour of other areas of Ottawa, which included a drive along the Rideau Canal, out to Tunney's Pastures, where many of the government buildings and offices are, and a circuit across the river and into Hull, Quebec, we ended up at Lyn and Janet's lovely home in Kanata. We had a drink and discussed the Census issue and our upcoming participation in the roundtable discussions. After this Lyn and Janet treated me to a very nice dinner in one of the local hotel restaurants. Following dinner I was taken back to my hotel in Ottawa.

Sunday I spent mostly wandering around the downtown area of Ottawa and Parliament Hill, and a market area that was within walking distance. The temperature was below zero, and while I had warm clothes and gloves, my ears were cold, and I ended up buying a toque in a sidewalk stand in the market.

Monday was taken up with the roundtable discussions on which I have already reported.

Tuesday involved more sightseeing on foot. I visited the National Library in the morning, and deposited with them two copies of my Submission to the Expert Panel on Historic Census Records. I spent some time in the library to check some volumes of a genealogy of the PERRIN family name that I was aware was the library. Unfortunately this appeared to be line of a different origin than that of my mother's paternal line.

On a whim, because the National Archive was in the same building, I decided to see if it was possible to meet with the National Archivist Ian Wilson, with whom I had had some email correspondence. He was unavailable at that time but I was able to make an appointment with him for 4:30 that afternoon.

I walked up Parliament Hill and checked out where the offices of Senator Lorna Milne and MP Murray Calder were located. I had appointments with them both the next day. Following a guided tour of the Parliament Building, it was time to walk back for my appointment with Ian Wilson.

I arrived at his office a little early, expecting to have to wait, but was pleasantly surprised when I was ushered in immediately. His office was only slightly smaller than the main floor of my house. I found Mr. Wilson to be a very personable individual, and easy to talk with. He was very knowledgeable regarding our efforts with the Census campaign, and we talked for about 40 minutes. I think one of the nicest things about this experience was that I did not have to tell him who I was, and what I wanted to talk about. He already knew. I thought it was 'kind of neat' that someone holding a position such as he did was aware who I was and what I was hoping to accomplish.

Wednesday I had a luncheon appointment with Senator Lorna Milne. She had invited me to be her guest in the Parliamentary Restaurant. I arrived at her office early as she and her staff had arranged for me to have my own personal guided tour of some of the offices in the East Block building that had been restored to their original 1910 condition. One of these offices was that of Sir John A. MacDonald. The East Block building is where most of the Senators have their offices.

Following my tour I was escorted through the connecting tunnel to the main Parliament Building where I was to meet Senator Milne. We waited for her in the rotunda where the MPs and Party Leaders hold their press scrums after the morning sessions of the House. I met Senator Milne and while walking to the Parliamentary Restaurant she introduced me to a few other Senators and MPs. We had a very nice buffet lunch complete with linen tablecloths and a glass of wine. I was advised that Wednesdays were the best days for people watching and for lunch as Cabinet meetings were held Wednesday mornings, and it was the only day that they had the buffet. They did not allow pictures to be taken in the dining room.

During lunch we had a very nice conversation, mostly concerning our collective efforts re: the Census. I found Lorna to be a very gracious lady, very easy to like, and to talk to, and I look forward to meeting her again. Following lunch we had a waiter take our picture together, and I took one of her by herself. Unfortunately my camera had somehow been knocked off of auto-focus and the pictures did not come out well.

Following lunch I grabbed the inter-building shuttle and made it to Murray Calder's office on time for my appointment with him and his staff. I had my picture taken presenting him with the next batch of petitions. We discussed the Census campaign and took the shuttle back to the main building together, where Murray personally escorted me to a place in the visitor's gallery without my having to wait in line. There are times when it is nice to 'know people in high places'.

    Gordon Watts, Co-chair of the Canada Census Committee, recently visited MP Murray Calder in Ottawa. He is shown here with petitions signed by nearly 3,500 Canadians calling for the public release of post-1901 census records. Murray was able to present many of these petitions in the House of Commons, and also to introduce Bill C-312 for first reading while Gordon watched from the visitors' gallery.
That afternoon Murray presented the first batch of our petitions, and also presented Bill C-312, his Private Member Bill on release of Historic Census records. This Bill is identical to Bill S-12, presented in the Senate by Senator Milne. It was interesting to view the activities of the House, and exciting to be in the Visitor's Gallery, when something you have been involved with is presented.

After presentation of the petitions and Bill C-312 in the House, it was back to the hotel to pick up my luggage, grab the airport shuttle, and have dinner at the airport before boarding the airplane for the five plus hour flight home. All in all, a very interesting, and at times exciting, trip. All I met, including the office staffs of Senator Milne and MP Murray Calder, treated me royally. The weather, while cold, was pleasant enough with only a few scattered flakes of snow, mostly at night.

Report on petitions

Petitions continue to come in although they seem to have slowed somewhat. While in our last go around British Columbia led the race for numbers of signatures collected, this time Alberta is the leader. This is due mostly to efforts by the Alberta Genealogy Society and the Alberta Family History Society. Both of these groups mailed copies of petitions for the Senate and House of Commons to each of their members, requested signatures be gathered and returned by goal dates set by them. The end result was that in excess of 2000 signatures for both the Senate and House of Commons were collected by each of these organizations. A loud round of applause goes to both of them. Other provincial organizations are encouraged to follow their example.

Provincial totals to the end of April are as follows
    Province House of Commons Senate
    British Columbia 1191 628
    Alberta 4915 4063
    Saskatchewan 536 573
    Manitoba 149 38
    Ontario 1121 775
    Quebec 304 357
    New Brunswick 337 253
    Nova Scotia 384 220
    Prince Edward Island 60 57
    Newfoundland 166 127
    Yukon Territories 7 -----
    North West Territories ----- -----
    Nunavut ----- -----
    Totals 9170 7091

    We have also received non-resident petitions with signatures totaling near 1000.
The following extracts from Hansard show the latest petitions to be presented by Senator Lorna Milne in the Senate, and MP Murray Calder in the House of Commons.
    Tuesday, May 8, 2001 Access to Census Information -- Presentation of Petitions Hon. Lorna Milne: Honourable senators, I have the honour today to present 1,394 signatures from Canadians in the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia who are researching their ancestry, as well as signatures from 116 people from the United States and 17 from Great Britain who are researching their Canadian roots. A total of 1,527 people are petitioning the following:

      Your petitioners call upon Parliament to take whatever steps necessary to retroactively amend Confidentiality-Privacy clauses of Statistics Acts since 1906, to allow release to the Public after a reasonable period of time, of Post 1901 Census reports starting with the 1906 Census.

    So far I have now presented petitions with 9,734 signatures to the Thirty-seventh Parliament. The numbers are climbing. I have presented petitions with over 6,000 signatures to the Thirty-sixth Parliament, all calling for immediate action on this very important matter of Canadian history.

    Thursday, May 17, 2001


    Mr. Murray Calder (Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I rise to present another petition to the House calling for the release of historic census records to the public. The petition is signed by more than 5,500 Canadians. Combined with the signatures of the previous petitions that I have presented on this subject in this session of parliament, the total number is now over 9,000.

    The petition points out that an estimated 7.5 million Canadians are engaged in the pursuit of their family history and that census records are a valuable tool for such research. The records have been used in historical research, for tracing genetic diseases and in settling wills and estates.

    The petitioners are calling upon parliament to take whatever steps are necessary to retroactively amend confidentiality clauses of the Statistics Act since 1906 to allow the release to the public, after a reasonable period of time, the post 1901 census records.
With summer vacations coming up there will be many opportunities for gathering signatures on petitions. Family reunions and holiday gatherings are just a couple examples. We have now exceeded numbers of signatures gathered last time, however, many more are needed. The longer the government delays in dealing with our concerns, the greater our efforts to convince them must be. Should we slack off our efforts now, they are likely to feel we have given up, and are no longer interested in regaining public access to Historic Census records. We cannot allow this to happen.

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. 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'.

Until next time, Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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