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Article Published August 25, 2001
POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts, email@example.com
Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament
Late breaking news re: Bill S-12
In my last column I reported that Senate Committee hearings regarding Senator Lorna Milne's Bill S-12 had been delayed until sometime in the fall. Senator Michael Kirby, the chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology had indicated that consideration of S-12 would be done in conjunction with a mandated review of the Privacy Act. It would appear that this has now changed.
On 22 August 2001 I received an email from the Office of Senator Lorna Milne advising me that hearings on Bill S-12 have been tentatively set for 19 or 20 September 2001. They apparently will no longer be done in conjunction with a review of the Privacy Act, but will take place on their own. I have been asked by Senator Milne to attend as a witness before the Senate Committee.
The timing of the Senate Committee hearings has come much sooner than was expected and so for the next couple of weeks I will be extremely busy putting together my presentation and submission. I am advised that the format of the hearing will likely allow each witness to make a verbal presentation of 10 to 15 minutes, followed by questioning by the Senate Committee members. Witnesses, and others, will be able to submit written submissions. I am advised that the time allotted to hearing witnesses will likely not be extensive, which is disappointing, as it will limit the number of witnesses able to appear. I have made some suggestions to Senator Milne's executive assistant as to some others who would be good witnesses.
In my last column, at the request of Senator Milne, I suggested that any interested parties could make submissions to the Senate Committee. My suggestion at this time is that if you are intending to make such a submission, NOW is the time to do so.
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:
Senate Standing Committee on
Canada K1A 0A4
Plaque commemorating British Home Children unveiled
On Sunday, 19 August 2001, in excess of 1000 British Home Children and their descendents attended the unveiling in Stratford, Ontario, of a plaque dedicated to approximately 100,000 children exported from the United Kingdom to Canada from 1869 to 1939. The Plaque was commissioned by Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and was the culmination of several years efforts by many people, not the least of which was David Lorente, chair of Home Children Canada.
Judging from the many postings on the BHC mail list it was an emotional experience not only for those who physically attended, but also for those who were there in spirit but unable to attend personally.
For those who were unable to attend, Jane Soules composed a letter to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps who was originally expected to attend the unveiling but in the end run was not present. Through email and postings to Perry Snow's BHC mail list, more than 300 BHC and their descendents 'signed' this letter, intended to represent those who could not attend. The text of Jane's letter follows:
Government of Canada
Dear Ms Copps,
On the occasion of the unveiling of this plaque commemorating the "national historic significance of Home Children" we, the undersigned would like to thank the Government of Canada for this small step in recognizing the significance of the contribution of these "little immigrants" to their "adopted" country of Canada. As British Home Children and proud descendants of these Home Children we would like to encourage the Canadian Government to build on this dedication by allowing access to vital records - i.e. the post 1901 census' as well as archival materials - so that we can continue our attempts to piece together the early years of our loved ones.
Though we cannot be present today, we will certainly be with you in spirit.
Jane Tait Soules
The listing of those who requested their names added to Jane's letter was followed by an addendum to her letter:
This is but a small representation of the estimated 4 million living descendants of Home Children in Canada. Those who have given their names - and those of their Home Children parents, grandparents, etc - participate in an online British Home Children newsgroup;
an off-shoot of http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~britishhomechildren/ , which currently lists the names of 16,500 Canadian Home Children. The participants in this group are working diligently -- and helping one another -- to discover the origin of their Home Children family members. Many have been successful, if even by finding a birth certificate to learn their family members' real name, date and place of birth. Many others continue the frustrating work of finding out whatever they can about their ancestors.
It has been, and continues to be, an emotional journey for me to discover my grandmother and her 4 sisters' place of origin and the circumstances of their emigration to Canada at the ages of 6 through 12. The sisters were placed in various towns from Quebec to Nova Scotia, eventually losing track of each others' whereabouts. Through exhaustive research -- and 4 years later -- I now have some information. Imagine my delight to discover that after a very difficult placement in Canada at the age of 8, my grandmother was in the first graduating class of Registered Nurses from the Montreal Children's Memorial Hospital! She went on to live a very fulfilling life in Canada. That being said, I continue to struggle to find out what happened to my 4 great aunts and thus, their families. I am but one of those 4 million descendants in Canada.
Ms Copps, my hope is that this missive will illuminate you and help you to understand the emotional outpouring that I anticipate may be demonstrated in Stratford at this unveiling today and that will continue as we try to put our British Home Children's lives into perspective. Along the way, we hope to uncover the origins of our own heritage.
Thank you for this opportunity.
Jane Tait Soules
One of the organizers of the unveiling, Marg Kohli, currently on vacation, has indicated she will provide further information regarding the unveiling to me on her return.
As many British Home Children came to Canada after 1901, there is a substantial number of their descendents who would benefit from public access to Post 1901 Census Records. We encourage them to join our efforts to regain that access.
Looking for Brian Tobin!!
Two columns ago I copied a letter sent to Industry Minister Brian Tobin in which I requested him to clarify his stated "…. broad- based discussion with all Canadians" regarding public access to Historic Census Records. You will recall that members of the Access to Information Review Task Force, the body apparently charged by Mr. Tobin with conducting these discussions, advised that their mandate did not include a review of, and recommendations regarding, public access to Historic Census Records.
Mr. Tobin has not seen fit to respond to this letter, nor to two others sent since then. Neither has he or his staff seen fit to even acknowledge receipt of them. Oops! Sorry! The last one did earn an acknowledgement from an Assistant Manager - Executive Correspondence and Records. This after several long distance telephone calls looking to see what had happened to the first two messages. This acknowledgement stated simply
My attempts to have Mr. Tobin respond to my letters and informally answer my concerns regarding "… broad based discussions with all Canadians" have been abysmal failures. On Friday, 10 August 2001, I sent formal Access To Information Requests to Statistics Canada for Industry Minister Brian Tobin, and to Justice Canada for Justice Minister Anne McLellan who has similarly failed to respond to my letters.
I sent a copy of the ATI Request to Statistics Canada, along with a covering letter, to Brian Tobin, not with any real expectations of getting his response, but being sometimes stubborn I refuse to give up trying. The message this time was sent via email to three different addresses for Mr. Tobin. It was sent also by fax, and a hard copy was sent via Canada Post. Lets see them lose all five copies of this one. I copy that letter here, followed by a copy of the Access to Information Request to Statistics Canada.
To the Honourable Brian Tobin -- Minister of Industry
Personal and Confidential
I copy herewith, for your information, the text of an Access to Information Request mailed to Statistics Canada on Friday 11 August 2001. An ATI Request for similar information has been directed to the Department of Justice for Justice Minister Anne McLellan.
These requests would not have been necessary had you seen fit to respond to a series of correspondence sent to you by email, fax, and Canada Post seeking clarification of the "broad based discussions with all Canadians" referred to in your News Release of 15 December 2000 in regards to public access to Historic Census Records.
Your failure to respond to, or to even acknowledge receipt of, my correspondence and that of many others that I have seen, displays a degree of, if not ignorance then at least extreme discourtesy, on the part of yourself or your staff.
Your rejection of the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census Records, and apparent lack of concern for those who seek to regain the same public access to Post-1901 Census Records that has been available for 235 years of records up to and including those of 1901, does little to endear you to the hearts of the estimated 7.5 million Canadians (voters) interested in genealogical and historical research through Census records.
It is all well and good to pay lip service to the "legitimate concerns of genealogists and historians". To date, however, your government has done nothing to address those concerns. You can remedy this by accepting the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census Records, and acting upon the recommendations contained therein. You can accept identical Private Member Bills by Senator Lorna Milne and your associate, MP Murray Calder, (Bills S-12 and C-312 respectively) as government Bills, thus assuring their speedy passage through their respective Houses of Parliament.
Since the election in November 2000, in excess of 20,000 signatures seeking access to Historic Census Records have been received on petitions alone, to the House of Commons and the Senate. Those opposing access, on the other hand, appear to be restricted to the Privacy Commissioner, Chief Statistician Ivan Fellegi, and a statistical organization of which Dr. Fellegi is a member. Information Commissioner John Reid and National Archivist Ian Wilson are both supportive of access.
To date so far, 128 Members of Parliament have indicated they would vote FOR a Bill allowing access, 8 would vote AGAINST, and 66 have given non-committal responses. Of the 99 MPs that have failed to respond to our questions, 50 are Liberal MPs from the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Based on past performance I expect the likelihood of receiving a response, or acknowledgement of receipt, for this correspondence, is probably nil. I shall continue, however, attempts to bring to your attention the desire of the Canadian public to regain access to those records currently denied us.
Gordon A. Watts firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Chair, Canada Census Committee
Access to Information Requests
Following is the Access to Information Request sent to Statistics Canada for Minister Brian Tobin. A second ATI Request was sent to Justice Canada for Justice Minister Anne McLellan who has similarly failed to respond to letters to her. While worded differently, the information requested of Ms. McLellan was the same as that requested of Brian Tobin. These Requests were mailed by Canada Post ExpressPost on Friday 10 August and were received by both departments on Monday, 13 August 2001. In accordance with provisions of the Access to Information Act I am required to receive a response within thirty days of receipt.
R.H. Coats Bldg., 25-B
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6
The Honourable Brian Tobin, Minister of Industry, and Minister Responsible for Statistics Canada, on 15 December 2000, released to the public the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census Records commissioned by his predecessor, the Honourable John Manley. He did so on Day 89 of the 90-day period within which he was required by law to do so because of an Access to Information Request made by myself.
In making the Report of the Expert Panel public, Mr. Tobin at the same time dismissed the recommendations contained therein, and issued a News Release stating:
"… further broad based consultation with all Canadians is needed. This consultation will take place as part of the already announced administrative and legislative review of the Access to Information and the Privacy Acts."
On 26 March 2001 your correspondent took part in roundtable discussions conducted under the auspices of the Access to Information Act Review Task Force. This is the body charged with undertaking the "already announced administrative and legislative review of the Access to Information …Act."
At the end of the day, those of us whose primary interest was in regaining public access to Historic Census records were pulled aside by observing members of the ATIA Review Task Force. We were advised that perhaps the ATIA Review was not the best route to take to achieve that goal. We were further advised:
On 26 March 2001 I directed an email to Mr. Tobin advising him what we had been told by observing members of the ATIA Review Task Force. I made a number of points and asked some questions, requesting a personal response from Mr. Tobin that would clarify the situation.
On 29 April 2001 I directed another message to Mr. Tobin. It was sent via email, fax, and Canada Post. This message requested a response to my first email as well as other information relating to the "broad based consultation with all Canadians" announced by Mr. Tobin. I again requested a personal response from Mr. Tobin.
To date, now approaching five months since sending my original message regarding this subject (26 march 2001), Mr. Tobin has neither responded to my stated concerns, nor has he or his staff had the courtesy to even acknowledge receipt of them. On 2 June 2001, following a number of long distance telephone calls to the Office of the Minister, I sent a third email message requesting responses from, or at least acknowledgement of receipt, of the previous two messages. Some ten days later I received an acknowledgement of this message from Mr. Paul Parent, A/Manager, Executive Correspondence and Records. This acknowledgement did not respond to the concerns expressed in the previous letters. It simply stated:
I quite frankly doubt that Minister Tobin "appreciates" receiving my correspondence. It is doubtful that he has even seen, or been advised of it.
It is obvious that I will likely not, via informal requests, receive any response to my concerns relating to the announced "further broad based consultations with all Canadians" in regards public access to Historic Census Records. This letter, therefore, is to be considered a formal Request for Information under Access to Information legislation. I have enclosed herein a check for the requisite fee for such a Request.
In relation to the above I seek to obtain any and all documentation, including email, letters, memoranda, notes about conversations, or other, between Brian Tobin as Minister of Industry or his staff, and; Anne McLellan -- Minister of Justice or her staff, employees of Justice Canada, Dr. Ivan Fellegi -- Chief Statistician of Canada, employees of Statistics Canada, The Honourable Lucienne Robillard -- President of the Treasury Board of Canada, Madame Andrée Delagrave - Chair of the ATIA Review Task Force, members of that Task Force, and/or any other bodies or persons; relating to any public consultations and/or review of public access to Historic Census Records and recommendations regarding the various legislation pertaining thereto, in particular the Access to Information Act.
I further seek any and all similar documentation between the above individuals, and any other bodies or persons, relating to any similar review of the Privacy Act.
I seek specifically to be advised as to where, when, and by whom "further broad based discussions with all Canadians" relating to public access of Historic Census Records have been, or are to be, held. I further seek to be advised as to when the results of any such "discussions" will be made known to the public.
I seek the truth.
This ATI Request has been directed to Statistics Canada. It is expected that, as per the ATI Act, should another department, or departments, be better able to fulfill my request, it shall be so directed to that other department or departments. A request similar to this one has been directed to Justice Canada and the Minister thereof, the Honourable Anne McLellan.
Gordon A. Watts,
Co-Chair, Canada Census Committee
Genealogy interest and research not restricted to elderly
Very often an interest in genealogy, and the research that accompanies that interest, is considered to be an addiction of those of us who are starting to advance in years. Some may say that the thought of our own approaching mortality increases our interest in those who have gone before us. It is not often thought of as a passion of those who have not yet reached the age of majority.
It is therefore gratifying to learn of some who have taken an interest in genealogical and historical research early in life. One such example of this, as many may already be aware, is Nat Smith in Nova Scotia. Nat has been written up in Halifax newspapers for his interest and research in local history. He has his own Internet website wherein he expands on that interest and has helped many others in their research with the content of that website. He has canvassed his schoolmates and sent us petitions with their signatures on them. At the time I first became aware of Nat he was (I believe) seventeen years old.
Now on the West Coast I have been made aware of another young person with an interest in family research. She is Taryn Jones, a high school student living in Victoria, BC. In September she transfers from Central Jr. Secondary School to Victoria High School. At the time she wrote the following letter to the Editor of the Victoria Times Colonist she was fifteen years old. Coincidentally, she celebrated her sixteenth birthday on 15 May, the date of the 2001 Census. Her letter was printed Saturday, 19 May 2001. The headline, added by the Editor, was shown below a picture of a Census form.
Census lessons teach future historians
I have been listening to comments on the radio regarding the Canadian 2001 census and I am surprised at the resistance exhibited by some people.
I am a 15-year-old junior high school student and also an avid genealogist. Without access to the British censuses of the 1800s, I would never have found out as much as I have about my ancestors in such a short period of time.
The censuses provide invaluable information, such as address, age, names, birthplace, occupation and names of any other relatives that may have been staying with the family on census night.
Why are people so worried about giving information, especially if they have the short-form census?
All the short form asks for is name, marital status and age. It doesn't even ask for your occupation!
If you refuse to fill out the census, you are depriving future generations of family information.
Aside from showing information on individuals, the censuses show the social history of a country.
Since the 2001 census will not be released until 100 years have passed, it is unlikely that anyone alive now will see the release.
Taryn Jones, Victoria.
Responses to petitions
There is a rule regarding petitions presented to the House of Commons that a response from the Government to those petitions will made to the House within 45 days of their presentation. While the fact that a response to a petition has been tabled is reported in Hansard, the response itself is not reported. Curiosity getting the best of me, I requested of MP Murray Calder who presented our petitions what the responses had been. Identical responses to the petitions presented were received on May 4 (to the petitions presented March 28) and on June 11 (to the petitions presented May 7).
It is disappointing to discover that responses to our petitions come not from the Minister responsible, but from Statistics Canada, the bureaucratic agency that has been responsible for our concerns to begin with. Our petitions have been directed to the House of Commons, and to the Senate, in Parliament Assembled. By implication they were addressed to the Government, and that Government and the Minister Responsible should respond to them - not Statistics Canada. Are you listening Mr. Tobin? We are talking to you!
Support from south of the border
>From time to time I have copied in this column some media articles referring to Historic Census issues. So far, all have been from sources in Canada. The following article, written by Patricia Wyatt appeared in The Narragansett Times of Wakefield, RI on Friday, 11 May, 2001 with the Headline: "Canadian Census is Info Goldmine." Patricia Wyatt writes weekly genealogy column titled "From This Treetop". Her article is copied here by permission.
Census taking is a serious business for any nation. Governments need to know how many people they govern. They need to know how many of their people live where so that they may know where and whom their decisions and actions will impact. They need to know whether theirs is a mobile population and in what directions it may be moving. And yes, they need to fairly distribute the representation of various parts of that population in the halls of government and they need to know how the county's financial needs will be met by taxes which will be assessed and apportioned how.
But the census also has other peripheral but legitimate uses. Businesses make business forecasts based on the findings of the census. Even the government is interested in what the census shows of the health of its agricultural communities and the ethnic make-up of their people. A case can be made that no less important is the use of those enumerations by genealogists and family historians everywhere.
What does any census tell genealogists and family historians? First of all, it firmly places a given individual and a family in a given place at the time of that census. Before you can search for vitals records orLand Recordsor any sort of important public records, you need to know where to search. Lacking any idea of where to begin, sometimes an indexed census is an important preliminary indicator.
A census also identifies the head of a household by name, age, occupation and many other factors depending upon the information called for in a given census year. Early censuses required much less information than do today's but the information needed has changed over time. Those requirements have included such things as the number of children coming along that will need to be educated. What is the national life expectancy? This is a factor that may say much about the state of the medical arts, the quality of life in a given area, or even the genetic makeup of the people of a given area.
Censuses also identify, today by name, all members of a given household. These forms also indicate the relationship of each member of the household to the head of that household. Attorneys trying to settle estates need to identify all members of certain families to establish legal heirs to such an estate. To do this, an attorney must proceed in much the same way as any careful genealogist. For many of us, this highlights one of the big issues surrounding this month's Canadian census.
Some years ago in the Canadian Parliament, then working on a statistics bill, an addition or a change was made to that bill. That change effectively closed to the public, for reasons of privacy, all Canadian censuses after1901. In this country, a deceased person has no established right to privacy. But under this Canadian law, a person's right to privacy - at least in the census, is established for eternity. This effectively closes the door to the use of the census in locating and identifying families.
Genealogists in this country cannot imagine not having the use of this important tool for such research. It is an official resource not duplicated anywhere else. Despite potential errors, the census is considered a primary resource for family research. This is a tool currently denied to researchers - from any country - looking for Canadian ancestors.
Clearly this situation is of greatest concern to Canadian citizens. But many Americans also have Canadian roots. Many Europeans came to this continent and eventually to this country via a Canadian port of entry. Some settled there before migrating to this country. There are recorded instances of a child being born on the high seas or being born while a ship made a temporary stop in Canada before continuing on to the United States. In both instances the birth may have been recorded in Canada without the child or the family ever actually having residence in Canada.
At the time of our Revolutionary War, some Americans loyal to the King of England also sought refuge there. For some it was a temporary refuge; others made permanent homes there. Some Canadians migrated to this country to find work, especially in the once bustling American mills. Historically, there have been many reasons for people and families to move in either direction across this traditionally open border.
Recognizing the magnitude of the problem, Canadian genealogists last year mounted a serious campaign to have that section of the law repealed. Citing the need to have the census enumerations opened, they were surprised to encounter some resistance to change, specifically change regarding these records. It is not important whether those in power simply could care less, whether the debate is over meddling with that specific Act, whether statisticians do not want their territory invaded, or whether there is a reluctance to yield any right to privacy. What is important is that those records are today unavailable even for legitimate use. For whatever reason, the Parliament last year adjourned without ever addressing this issue.
Therefore, Canadian genealogists have again started a campaign to open these important records And they have appealed to Americans for help in indicating to Parliament how important the issue truly is, outside as well as inside Canada itself.
As of Easter weekend, the campaign had begun but had only 769 American signatures and only one American genealogical society on record in support of opening the Canadian censuses. (That society was the Livingston County Genealogical Society of Michigan.)
The Rhode Island Genealogical Society put out a copy of the petition at its last program meeting and immediately collected some 33 signatures which have been forwarded to one of the chairs of this movement. Therefore the Society will be asked at its general meeting in May to vote their society support for their Canadian counterparts in this effort.
Although South County-ites are not noted for writing either their support or opposition to most issues, you too could add your personal support. You do not have a Member of Parliament to represent you, but if you also feel rather strongly about the issue, you could write to Muriel M. Davidson, 25 Crestview Avenue, Brampton, Ontario, Canada L6W 2R8 or E-mail her at email@example.com. It isn't how well you write or how you say it, only that you do so. This is an important issue for our Canadian friends. Can you offer your American help and support?
A "by the way" to local genealogists: the annual meeting of the R.I. Genealogical Society will be held on Sunday, May 20th, at 1 P.M. in the Wickford Baptist Church on Main Street in Wickford. In addition to a special recognition for their charter members of 25 years ago, there will be a "mini-geni" fair for which members are invited to bring their books, charts et cetera - anything on which the member is working and willing to share. There will be a copier available and a computer will be available with the RI Historic Cemetery database loaded for you to search. This is also a chance to meet other genealogists from the area and perhaps to discuss with them your genealogical problem. You are cordially invited to attend.
Letters and petitions still needed
Summer vacations and family get-togethers are ideal times to let others know about the withholding of Historic Census Records, and to collect signatures on petitions. It is also a time for writing letters to the Members of Parliament, Senators, and the various Ministers, including Brian Tobin. While some have suggested that a letter writing campaign should be started when Parliament resumes, now is the time for writing those letters. Now is the time to mail those letters so that each MP, Senator, and Minister has a stack of them waiting for their return.
Keep the petitions coming in. We will be tabulating those received over the summer and sending them in to coincide with the re-opening of Parliament in September. To date, in excess of 20,000 signatures have been received on petitions to the House of Commons and the Senate.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org