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Article Published November 22, 2001
POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts, email@example.com
Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament
Tragedy in the US
As will be evident as you read my column, I began to write it immediately after watching the Memorial Ceremony on Parliament Hill commemorating (is that the proper word?) the tragic events that happened in the United States on Tuesday 11 September 2001. The massive square in front of the Parliament Building, bounded by the East and West Block buildings, was empty when last I was there in March. It was now totally filled with people wishing to share their grief with what took place, and their sympathies with those who lost loved ones in the destruction. It was estimated that 100,000 people attended this ceremony.
As the cameras scanned the crowd gathered there it picked up images of people of all races, and presumably most religions. All there with a common purpose. Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, and the American Ambassador delivered messages. Three minutes silence was observed, ending with the tolling of the bell in the Great Tower of the main Parliament Building, and still the crowd maintained the silence. A military band played a few selections. While the ceremonies proceeded people in the crowd stood silent. Some wept openly, some prayed on their own, and others held burning candles in jars. And then it was over.
The feelings, however, were not over, and likely never will be.
One might be tempted to say that the destruction of Tuesday 11 September 2001 was mindless. This however would not be correct. There was a mind behind this destruction. A fanatical, terrorist mind to be sure. But a mind nevertheless. For most, it is impossible to comprehend how such a mind can work, and I will make no attempt to make any sense of it here. All we can do now is to watch how events unfold from this point on. We hope that the perpetrators of these horrendous acts of violence can be quickly brought to justice.
These acts of terror were not a blow against the United States. They were a blow against all civilized countries of the world. They will have consequences. Some immediate - some delayed - and some long lasting.
We will watch - some of us will participate - and we will remember!!
The letter below by Patricia Corney of Quakertown, PA, USA was written to her sister, and was copied to me. It says things for which I do not have the words. It is copied here list with permission.
The email was sent to my sister, Joan, who was upset because I had only mentioned it was raining here in PA and that I loved her. She writes such great emails and I usually have not much to say. So I sat down and wrote "words".
I am sorry that I have fallen short on words and have upset you.
My mind is a blank and it truthfully gives me a headache to try and think of words to say.
I sit here in my house and listen to the TV even when I do not want to. I cry, as I am doing now, for the people who have died, for the people waiting to find out for sure what has happened to their loved ones. I cry, as I sit here safe and sound and wonder what this world that we grew up with has come to. I remember some things about world war II, but as it was not on our home turf, the memories fade away, because we here really did not have it bad. We were restricted in travel, food was rationed, but we understood we had to help our soldiers overseas.
These pictures and happenings will never leave my mind, our lives as we know them is over. We must now all learn to be wary of strangers, be wary of neighbors, be wary when we travel, whether by plane, ship or rail. We must now learn to live as the English, Israelies and others have done for years.
I have always been a cynic, I believe in God and very little else when it comes to people. I believe in my family. I am suspicious [wrong spelling, but really don't care] of all. Even in their grief, people are as usual trying to find people to take their anger out on, even if they are American born, just because their parents came from the suspected area of the terrorists. It is good to be angry, but anger must never be allowed to strike out at people who may be innocent. As the saying goes, revenge is best served cold.
We, as a country that preserves and defends the freedom of our people and people around the globe, must never sink to the level of terrorists. We must be just and sure that who we destroy are really the organizations that were responsible for this mass murder. If we strike out just because we can, we become no better than those we hunt.
I belong to 10 - 12 Genealogy Mail Lists and the outpouring of support and love from these lists is something to behold.
Some feel we have got what we deserve and that it was too long in coming. But no people, American, English, French, Russian, Bosnian, Arab, Jew deserves to have people killed because of something that goes back hundreds of years. No religion has the right to demand that the world must worship as they do and if they do not, they must die. We all worship a greater force than we mortals. God is God, be he Muslin, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Hindu, etc. In basic, we all believe in the same God, just different names. I imagine him sitting up there and looking down on us all and thinking "I must have gone wrong somewhere". More wars and killing have been done in his name and nothing changes.
I know you may not agree "with my words", but these are my thoughts as I sit here. I love you, Ted and our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and our relatives. Sometimes all one can say is I love you.
Patricia I. Corney
Quakertown, PA USA
BHC Plaque Unveiling
In my last column I made reference to the unveiling, in Stratford, Ontario, of a plaque commemorating British Home Children. At my request, Marj Kohli, one of the organizers of the event, provided the following article regarding it.
Canada Unveils A Plaque In Honour Of Home Children
To many the day might have been just another Sunday but to over 1,000 people this was a very special day. What started out as an historical plaque unveiling (an event which usually attracts about 50 to 100 people) turned into the most wonderful reunion.
Parks Canada had arranged to unveil a plaque at 51 Avon Street, Stratford, Ontario, which was the Annie McPherson Home from 1883-1919. It was here that thousands of children from various parts of England, Scotland and Ireland, ranging in age from the very young (some babies), to the later teens stopped off on their way to being placed on farms as labourers or as domestic help. Often made to feel inferior, on growing up they sometimes kept their past hidden from their own children. These were the 'home children' and the plaque was to acknowledge the part they played in Canadian History.
The arrangements for the unveiling were changed several times as the magnitude of the event became evident. Thus the plaque was not unveiled on site but instead at the Coliseum in Stratford which could accommodate the hundreds of people who had responded to the invitations.
A piper lead the dignitaries to the stage and the crowd stood to sing O Canada. Both local and federal authorities addressed the audience but when Richard (Dick) Wright, a Fegan boy, told his story of a mother who did not want him and of his coming to Canada I do not think there was a dry eye in the place. However, Dick was quick to point out that he had had a wonderful life in Canada and was very proud to be a Canadian.
Surviving 'home children' were asked to unveil the plaque and the crowd rose and applauded. There were pictures, stories, and sharing of information and the emotions ran high. Many of the sending agencies attended the ceremony and various groups set up displays and contact tables around the facilities to assist people in their research. The most popular place for pictures was in front of a large display showing various aspects of the child immigration program. There was also press coverage by various TV stations and newspapers and they all wanted to interview the surviving children.
The last of the 'home children' to come to Canada came in 1939, with only a few from the Fairbridge Society arriving in the 1940s with special dispensation from the Canadian Government. Now, however, the few remaining children and their descendants are trying to piece together their lives. The children are seeking to know where they came from and their descendants want to know what happened to their ancestors once they arrived in Canada. We are not talking of a few people, for there were over 100,000 of these children sent to Canada and some people estimate that their descendants now number in the millions.
Many family historians use stories, letters, diaries, and family relations to help fill in a background. Researching a 'home child,' however, is a very different matter. Since most of the children did not talk about their past, families are left with little in the way of supporting evidence to piece together the lives of the children and where they came from. One of the most valuable research tools is the census. While in the past our government encouraged this type of immigration, we now have a government which wishes to deny these people access to this tool. My own member of parliament said he did not see the need to release the census because people now a days know all about their origins, This shows, I am sure, how little our members of parliament really understand the issue. I must say, however, he has since changed his mind.
How can you make someone else understand the joy of discovering from the census that your father/grandfather/mother/grandmother lived on a farm in Waterloo County in 1911 so you now have a starting point from which you can try to reconstruct that young life? One person told me: "For my sake, and the sake of my children and grandchildren, and most of all for the memory and honour of my dad, I hope to uncover his "story" as a Home Child."
Even the smallest lead helps when you are researching one of these children and nothing is more rewarding to me then to hear something like this: "Oh my god, I cannot believe this is happening ......the feelings are so great it is hard to explain them. I have cousins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Senate Committee hearings on Bill S-12
The main reason for my trip to Ottawa has come and gone. My appearance before the Senate Committee hearings on Senator Milne's Bill S-12 has come, and gone, and I am once again at home. It was an interesting experience to say the least.
To begin with, the hearings started two hours later than intended. The House and Senate were sitting in emergency debates regarding the events of 11 September in the US, and Committees are not allowed to sit while the Senate is sitting. As a result, the Senate Hearings did not start until after 5:30 PM.
Senator Milne gave a very good speech in support of her Bill. I will not try to summarize her speech here as I expect to post a transcript of the hearings on the Post 1901 Census Project website. I will also include selected parts of the hearings in future Gazette columns. They are too lengthy to include at one time in a single column.
I was pleased that Senator Milne quoted part of the Submission to the Expert Panel by Donald Nisbet (deceased). Don was a very dedicated and thorough researcher, and contributed much to our campaign before his death. Senator Milne spoke about British Home Children being an example of one group having a particular need for access to Historic Census Records.
A panel consisting of Ian Wilson - National Archivist, Michael Sheridan - Assistant Chief Statistician, and George Radwanski - Privacy Commissioner, followed Senator Milne. Mr. Wilson presented an historical aspect of the Census situation and, as expected, supported the Bill. Michael Sheridan and George Radwanski, also as expected, spoke against the Bill. Both stressed in their arguments the so-called promise for which they are unable to provide any documented evidence. It is almost as if they are afraid their world would fall apart if they were forced to admit that the 'promise' does not exist. One surprise was that George Radwanski admitted to being less opposed to access to census records than was his predecessor Bruce Phillips. He still, however, opposed the passage of Bill S-12
Michael Sheridan also presented a surprise by stating that there were to be a number of 'town-hall meetings' across the country to find out how people feel about the release of census records. He indicated that the Minister would be seeking tenders for holding these meetings in the following week. In response to a question by Senator Graham he stated that the decision to hold these meetings had been made by Brian Tobin a month ago. In response to a further question of Senator Graham Mr. Sheridan stated that Bill S-12 had nothing to do with Mr. Tobin's decision to hold these 'town hall meetings', but that the minister had made the decision "at the time of the release of the panel report, which was in ….December of 2000". Two different answers to essentially the same question of when the decision was made.
I find the statements regarding upcoming 'town hall meetings', and when the decision to hold them was made, surprising. As you all know, we have been trying to get a response from Brian Tobin for some time to clarify where, when, and by whom his announced 'broad-based discussions with all Canadians' were to be held, and when the results of those discussions are to be announced.
If indeed, as indicated by Mr. Sheridan, Brian Tobin had decided in December 2000 to hold 'town hall meetings' to deal with this issue, there are a number of questions that arise. Why was that decision not reflected in his 15 December 2000 News Release wherein he stated 'broad based discussions with all Canadians' would be conducted through previously announced reviews of the Access to Information and Privacy Acts? Why did members of the Access To Information Act Review Task Force inform us that such a review was not a part of their mandate? Why have tenders for these 'town hall meetings' not been initiated earlier than ten months after his decision to hold such meetings? Why has the Minister refused to respond to, or even acknowledge receipt of, many requests for clarification regarding the 'broad-based discussions with all Canadians'? I submit, as I have done before, that someone, somewhere, is being less than truthful in dealing with our concerns.
Mr. Sheridan indicated that these 'town-hall meetings' would be widely advertised. I urge all to watch their newspapers for these announcements, and make sure they get out to support the positions of access. I will be attempting to obtain a schedule of these meetings and will post any information I manage to obtain regarding them.
My concern regarding these meetings is that, like the Environics Research surveys conducted by Statistics Canada for the Expert Panel, responses can be pre-conditioned and guided by the information provided before asking the questions. For example, in the surveys conducted for the Expert Panel, Statistics Canada did not get the negative responses they wanted in the first survey, so they conducted a second survey. In that second survey, after the second question respondents were told there was promise of never ending confidentiality. The remaining five questions stressed that promise and sought negative responses. They did not succeed. While the answers were less positive than those from the first survey, they were, nevertheless, still positive. I am greatly concerned that the format of the town-hall meetings will also greatly stress the non-existent 'promise' and seek to elicit a negative response to public access of Historical Census Records. I am also concerned that these meetings are simply another stalling tactic to delay dealing with our concerns.
A further comment that I might offer is that except for politicians seeking to be elected, or re-elected, 'town hall meetings' across Canada, to my knowledge, are a rare occurrence. Why, at this time, and for this issue, has Mr. Tobin elected to use this method to seek the opinion of Canadians? Surely there are more pressing issues of National importance for which this method might have been used - but has not been. I stand to be corrected but I am unaware of any other such meetings, at any time, that have been held throughout the country to deal with a single issue. Leastwise not in recent times.
'Town hall meetings', as the term implies, would normally be local, all-candidate meetings, held prior to an election, so that prospective voters can present, and ask questions about, local issues. Should Mr. Tobin personally participate in these meetings (which I view as unlikely) it is my opinion that he would likely be campaigning more for his desire to succeed Jean Chretien as Prime Minister, than for a true interest in knowing how Canadians feel about the release of 92 year old Census records. I would welcome Mr. Tobin correcting me in this, however I think that occurrence is also unlikely. He does not want to talk to me.
Back to the hearings. Following a few questions directed to the first panel, it was time for Chad Gaffield, one of the members of the Expert Panel, and myself to do our bit. Professor Gaffield was in my view, the strongest speaker of all of us. He knew his subject and did not read his presentation as did most of the rest of us, but spoke from some scribbled notes. He did not write them on an envelope as did a famous orator (and President of the US) who sported a beard and stovepipe hat, but he did very well. For myself, I did, for the most part, read my verbal presentation, (copied below) although I did respond off the cuff to a few comments that had been made by Michael Sheridan and George Radwanski. A number of the Senators on the Committee appeared surprised when informed about the many delays and apparent reluctance of Ministers Brian Tobin and Anne McLellan to respond to, or even acknowledge receipt of, messages expressing our concerns seeking clarification of public consultations regarding access to Historical Census Records.
While it was thought that clause by clause consideration of Bill S-12 (and disposal by the Committee) would take place that night (although in camera), because of the late start and the late hour following the hearings it was decided to proceed with that at another time. I am not sure if such a time was set yet, or just some time in the future.
It was great to see and speak with Senator Milne, Chad Gaffield and Ian Wilson again. I met with MP Murray Calder the following afternoon to present him my latest batch of petitions containing 2565 signatures. These petitions were presented to the House of Commons on Friday, 28 September. Since collating those petitions just before leaving for Ottawa I have received several more. These will make a good start for the next batch -- keep them coming.
On the lighter side, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, Senator Kirby, referred to me twice as Professor Watts, and Senator Graham referred to me as Dr. Watts (I am neither). I am told that my voice did not shake and that I came across well, but I am lucky that no one else was sitting in my chair. They would have felt it shaking. <]:-) Following the close of the hearings some of the Senators on the Committee personally congratulated me on my presentation.
I was pleased that Doug and Hazel Redmond, distant relatives on my mother's paternal line, were among the public that attended the hearings. I had never met them before but was pleased to be able to spend some time with them the next day. I was able to collect some more family information and they treated me to a lovely dinner at a great Italian restaurant. I intended to give the name of the restaurant but looking at how I spelled it I think it would be an insult to them to do so. The food, atmosphere, and service, however, were all great!
I also met for the first time, John and Donna McFarlane, relatives on my mother's maternal line. They picked me up at my hotel Friday afternoon and I stayed a couple of nights with them and they got me to Ottawa airport in plenty of time for my flight home. They live not far from where my grandmother was born in Flower Station, Lanark County, Ontario, and they took me to visit other relatives that I had met on a trip in 1997, and another new relative I had not met before. All in all, a great visit with great people. Genealogy is fantastic!!
My verbal presentation to the Senate Committee
I copy here my verbal presentation to the Senate Committee reviewing Bill S-12. There was more to it than presented here as I responded to some questions later in the proceedings. For those who are interested the full text of the Hearings, as indicated earlier, will shortly be posted to the Post 1901 Census Project website and I will post a message when that has been done.
The first decade of the 20th century saw the greatest influx of immigrants in the history of Canada. From 1900 to 1910, 1,819,930 immigrants from 49 different ethnic origins came to Canada. From 1911 to 1920 a further 1,573,432 came. Another 498,752 came between 1921 to 1925. Without access to historical census records, descendents of many of these immigrants will never know where their ancestors originated.
It has been estimated that 7.5 million people in Canada, to one degree or another, have an interest in genealogy and family history. I speak on behalf of those people.
Let me make it clear at the outset, genealogists and historians do not seek to obtain something new. What we seek is something 'old'. 'Old' both in respect of the information involved, and in the fact that it is something that we have had in the past. We seek something that has been taken away from us because of misinterpreted legislation, and the fact that a few paranoid government bureaucrats feel that someone, at some time, might decide to look at records that may contain information about their ancestors. Unfortunately, those bureaucrats have control over the records we seek.
235 years of census records - all that have survived - from the first census of New France conducted in 1666 by Jean Talon, up to and including the 1901 census of Canada reside in and are under control of the National Archives. As such, they are available to any person or body for purposes of research. Copies of these records are available for purchase by libraries, genealogical and historical societies, and individuals. We suggest that access to 235 years of records constitutes a substantial precedent.
We see no reason that access to subsequent censuses should now be withheld.
Obviously, Statistics Canada has a different view. They claim that as far back as 1905, the people of Canada were given promises and guarantees of confidentiality that a census would last forever. They have been unable to substantiate these claims. Access to information requests for documented evidence of the existence of such promises and guarantees were submitted.
Statistics Canada has been unable to produce any such evidence. Under our system of democracy, change in legislation takes place because of representations made to the government by the people. This is done through representatives elected by the people. It is the reason we are here today. During the 36th Parliament of Canada, representation made by the people resulted in the appointment of the Expert Panel on Access to Historical Census Records. An educated guess regarding the number of signatures on letters, e-mails, submissions to the Expert Panel, and petitions seeking to regain public access to Historical Census Records would be in excess of 16,000. During the current Parliament, in excess of 22,000 signatures have been collected on petitions alone to the House of Commons and to the Senate. These figures are added to daily.
There has been no corresponding representation to the government by people opposing access. Of the reported 95 submissions sent to the expert panel, only two opposed access to these records. One simply objected to the concept of breaking the promise he believed had been made. The other was a submission by the National Statistics Council, complete with a list of council members. Prominently displayed below the name of the chairperson of the council is the name of ex-officio member, Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada. It is a foregone conclusion that any organization associated with Dr. Fellegi would oppose access.
Dr. Fellegi and StatsCan would have you believe that knowledge and information provided in a census released 92 years in the future would cause respondents to be reluctant to answer questions or to answer them truthfully. Surveys by Environics Research Group that were conducted by StatsCan on behalf of the Expert Panel did not bear this out. Responses to the question in these surveys remained positive, even after having it unduly stressed that promises of never-ending confidentiality had been made. Reading these surveys, it is obvious that StatsCan manipulated the questions and information provided in a blatant effort to obtain a negative response. It did not work.
Bill S-12 has been very well thought out. It will satisfy the concerns of those that seek public access to historic census. It should also satisfy those people who have concerns regarding confidentiality of personal information given in response to census. The delay of 92 years before release to the public provides a reasonable balance between privacy concerns and the need of genealogists and historians for information that no source other than census can provide.
This delay is consistent with the provisions of regulation 6(d) of the Privacy Act of Canada. The position of total closure of these records as espoused by Statistics Canada and the Privacy Commissioner provides no balance whatsoever.
The people of Canada have spoken. They wish to regain the public access to post-1901 census records on the same basis as those records up to and including 1901 have been, and continue to be, accessible. There should be no discrimination of records up to and including 1901 and those that follow.
We call upon the committee to support Bill S-12 without modification. We further call upon the government to accept Bill S-12 as a government bill.
That concludes what I had intended as my original verbal submission. I have a couple of comments that I would like to make. I found very interesting the reference by Mr. Sheridan to town hall meetings, which are something that is totally new. On December 15, 2000, Industry Minister Tobin announced that further broad-based discussions with all Canadians would take place in conjunction with the ongoing reviews of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. Mr. Gaffield and I were told face-to-face, on March 26, by members of the Access to Information Act Review Task Force, not to expect much to be said in their final report, because it was not part of their mandate. They were never told that a review of census should be something they should consider or make recommendations regarding.
I have tried numerous times to receive clarification from both Minister Tobin and Justice Minister McLellan, on just what, when, where and by whom these discussions would take place. We have not received a response from either of them, and we have had no acknowledgement of our correspondence with them. We have put in Access to Information Requests to both ministers for this information. Statistics Canada has stated that they needed a further delay of 30 to 60 days in order to comply with my request.
The day before coming out here, I received a letter from the Minister of Justice's ATI officer stating that they needed a further 130 days. In my view, this is just another example of their great reluctance to have anything to do with our concerns regarding this census issue.
Press Release of Senator Hatch (United States)
My thanks to Lynda Andrew for forwarding the following Press Release. It shows what would appear to be a fundamental difference between the attitudes of the United States and our country as regards those interested in pursuing an interest in genealogy. Those in the government of the United States support and encourage an interest in family history, while Ministers of our government, including Industry Minister Brian Tobin show little interest in encouraging those seeking information on their ancestry. To the contrary, they appear to be doing everything they can to prevent it. The original Press Release can be found at
Perhaps Brian Tobin and Jean Chrétien might appreciate a copy of it. Don't forget your MPs and Senators as well.
Contact: Christopher Rosché - 202.224.9851
Wednesday, September 26, 2001
WASHINGTON - By unanimous consent, the Senate today approved legislation introduced by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch to designate October as "Family History Month." "Millions of Americans are researching the history of their families," said the Utah Republican. "Experts say that in the United States, genealogy is now the second most popular hobby next to gardening. It is believed that more that 80 million Americans are currently actively searching for more information about their ancestors.
"It is only natural that we want to find out more about our ancestors," Hatch continued. "What better way to bring families closer together than by discovering more about the story of their own family? Like it or not, who we are today is in large part, a product of our ancestors.
Hatch's bill (S.R. 160), which was co-sponsored by Robert Bennett (R-Utah), commemorates October as Family History Month and encourages President Bush to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe the month of October with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
"With the advent of the Internet, there has been an explosion of interest in family history," Hatch continued. "Last month alone, more than 14 million Americans used the Internet to research their family history. Genealogy Internet sites are some of the most popular sites on the World Wide Web. My church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has family history information on nearly 500 million individuals on its family history web site (www.familysearch.com)."
"Essentially, we are all immigrants to this country. Our ancestors came from different parts of the globe," Hatch said. "By searching for our roots, we come closer together as a human family.
S.R. 160 had 84 co-sponsors and was approved by unanimous consent.
"Researching ancestry is a very important component of identity. It can lead to long-sought-after family reunions or allow for life saving medical treatments that only genetic links will allow," Hatch said. "For all of these reasons, I encourage people across this nation to find out more about where they came from."
House of Commons petitions totaling 2565 signatures were handed over to MP Murray Calder while on my trip to Ottawa. More petitions were received just before I left for Ottawa, and others have been received since my return home. Keep them coming.
As of 17 September 2001, petition totals for the House of Commons and the Senate are as follows:
Non-resident petitions signatures totaling 1069.
There is no deadline for receiving petitions. We will continue to collect signatures until such time as we have achieved our goal - that being the regaining of public access to Historic Census Records, 92 years following collection.
Petitions are downloadable from the Post 1901 Census Project website located at
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'.
Post 1901 Census Project Website
For more information regarding the Census issue, visit the Post 1901 Census Project website located at
Gordon A. Watts firstname.lastname@example.org