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Article Published December 12, 2001
POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts, firstname.lastname@example.org
Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament
Town Hall meetings and focus groups
The following ad appeared on page A7 of the Ottawa Citizen of 6 December 2001
Statistics Canada has commissioned Environics Research Group to hold a series of town hall meetings across Canada to canvass your opinions.
THE OTTAWA-GATINEAU TOWN HALL MEETINGS
Friday Dec. 14th, 2-4p.m. AND 6-8 p.m.
Sir Guy Carleton Room, Marriott Residence Inn
161 Laurier Ave West, Ottawa
Presentations in English or French on a first come, first serve basis. For more information: http://www.statcan.ca/english/census96/histrcrd.htm OR http://erg.environics.net/
Please confirm your attendance at either of these two town hall meetings by emailing email@example.com or calling (613) 230-5089.
The tender for contract put out by Statistics Canada called for "Town Hall meetings [to] be held in one centre in each of the ten provinces and three territories as well as in Ottawa (total 14) while two focus groups will be held in each of the same centres for a total of 28 groups."
The Environics website at http://erg.environics.net/ gives further information regarding these meetings as well as a schedule of dates and times where they will be held. There appears to be only 11 meetings scheduled rather than the 14 contracted. No meetings appear to be scheduled for the Territories. I will try to keep on top of any additions to the schedule.
Anyone wishing to speak at any of the meetings should contact Environics now - without delay, or there will likely be no spots left. With each speaker allotted 15 minutes to speak, with a five minute question period, there is likely to be only five speakers per session allowed - a maximum of ten per location. Spots to speak are on a first come, first serve basis and are allotted in advance.
I would appreciate anyone managing to get accepted as a speaker to let me know. I would also like to be advised as to information provided by Environics, and questions asked by them. Let me know how the meetings go, and what your impression of them has been.
In addition to the Town Hall meetings, there will be two Focus Groups held in each location. While we can request to speak at the Town Hall Meetings, the Focus Groups are another thing. Prospective participants in Focus Groups are randomly contacted by telephone and asked a number of questions, the purpose of which is to screen out people who do not meet the criteria desired. Those who do meet the criteria are invited to participate as a group and are usually paid a nominal fee for participating.
10 to 12 people participate in each Focus Group. They are provided some information regarding the purpose of the group and are asked a number of questions. There may or may not be some discussion about specific questions. Having participated in a couple of Focus Groups myself, and read the reports of others, I am aware how easy it is direct the information given and questions asked to receive any given desired response. It is our opinion that the information given and questions directed by Statistics Canada in Focus Groups and national surveys held for the Expert Panel on Access to Historical Census Records were biased in favour of obtaining negative responses. It is to be hoped that these Focus Groups will not be conducted in such a manner.
The odds are against anyone reading this being selected to participate in one of these Focus Groups. Should that happen, however, I would like to be advised regarding how they were conducted.
The 'compromise solution'
For some time we have been hearing about a "compromise solution" that former Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips had said he could accept. It was mentioned in Hansard when current Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski was interviewed pending his appointment, and was brought up during the Senate Committee hearings on Senator Lorna Milne's Bill S-12 - An Act to Amend the National Archives of Canada and Statistics Acts (census records) Subsequent to the Senate Committee hearings I have obtained a copy of this so-called compromise. In my opinion it is extremely restrictive towards access, and in fact is little better than no access at all. I copy this 'compromise solution' below, with my comments regarding the various sections following. My comments are contained within square brackets, i.e. [ ] .
A Balanced Proposal to Provide Access to Historical Census Records while Maintaining the Originally Promised Privacy Protection1. Objective:
2. Legal prerequisite:
Restricting release of basic information gleaned from Census records to members of one's own family severely inhibits one of the main reasons many people become involved in genealogical research. That reason being to publish, and therefore share with others (be they relatives or not) the fruits of their research, i.e. their genealogy and family history. Strict adherence to the provisions of this section would prevent sharing even the very existence of ancestors found through use of census records, let alone any other information regarding them. Concern here is increased once more by the extremely narrow definition of one's own family.]
3. Operating principles:
Strict adherence to such a definition would allow one to search for, and upon finding it, use basic information on, for example, a g-g-grandfather. It would, however, prevent use of any information from Census regarding any siblings of that g-g-grandfather, and would consequently prevent any research regarding side branches of that family. It would allow use of information on only one child of that g-g-grandfather, and on only one child of that child, and so on down the direct line of descendancy, even though there might be ten or more children in each generation of those families.
Strict adherence to this definition would prevent research on any extended family. No research could be done on any degree of aunts, uncles, cousins, non-direct line relatives connected by marriage, or any other relatives. Such restrictive access to the records would be little better than having no access.]
4. Operational arrangements:
[Summary: While not specifically stated in this document, the highly restrictive terms and conditions it details would indicate that access to Post-1901 Census records would be available only in federal government offices, and under the supervision of a government official. This would seriously restrict access for those living in rural or remote locations. Even in urban areas, federal government offices are few and far between. This fact alone seriously inhibits, and discriminates against, the ability of the greater part of Canada's population to access these records. It further discriminates against those who may currently reside in another country but seek information on their ancestral roots in Canada.
To set up a government system whereby all Canadians are given reasonably equal access to these records would be extremely costly. Office space, storage space for records in each location, microform and printed format copies of the records themselves, staff and supervision, all have costs associated with them. Private institutions and the users of these records, rather than the taxpayers of Canada, currently cover a large part of these costs - for records up to and including those of 1901 at least.
Records for Census up to and including those of 1901 are currently available from the National Archives through inter-library loan, or for purchase in microform or printed format by libraries, genealogical or historical societies, educational institutions or individuals. The restrictions of this document would not allow that for Census records after 1901.
We find it difficult to support the so-called 'compromise solution'. We do not find it much of a 'compromise' at all, for the reasons stated above. We view the current position of Statistics Canada regarding public access to Historic Census records to be obstructive, and based upon faulty legal opinions and misinterpretation of legislation dating back as far as 1905. The authors of some of those legal opinions suggested that minor changes to legislation or to departmental policy might allow the public access sought, and offered to assist in bringing about those changes. Statistics Canada chose to ignore those suggestions.
Of the legal opinions we have seen relating to this matter, most have been based on a very narrow view of a single clause of Census or Statistical legislation and Instructions to Enumerators and Officers of Census. With one exception these opinions have ignored other pertinent clauses of these same statutes and Instructions. They have not looked at the whole picture and have ignored other statutes - specifically the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, and the National Archives of Canada Act - that all have a bearing on this issue.
The one exception to this has been the legal opinion of Ann Chaplin, Senior Counsel, Constitutional and Administrative Law, Department of Justice, dated August 1, 2000. Ms. Chaplin's legal opinion, unlike those preceding hers, considered the whole picture and came to a different conclusion than did those considering only the narrow view of the Secrecy clause of early Census and Statistics legislation. The opinion of Ms. Chaplin did not find a permanent prohibition to public access of Census records and suggested that the addition of a 'notwithstanding' clause to section 4 of the National Archives of Canada Act would be sufficient to resolve the current impasse.
Perhaps the most interesting point of Ms. Chaplin's legal opinion is that it was requested by, and directed to, Myles J. Kirvan, Director and Senior General Counsel, Legal Services, Health Canada. While not directed to Statistics Canada we feel certain that they have likely been aware of it and have once again refused to accept a suggestion to resolve this issue.
As indicated above, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to support the so-called 'compromise solution'. In our view there are essentially three options open to the government.
England and Wales, who release their Census records after 100 years, have scanned the documents of their Census of 1901 and photographic images of these documents will be made available on the Internet starting 2 January 2002. They are currently scanning the documents of their 1891 and 1881 Census' with the intention of making them available on the Internet as well. (Check the website at http://census.pro.gov.uk for further information) While there is a charge for accessing and downloading the photographic image, the Census has been fully indexed and the index is searchable without charge.
In the United States, who release their Census after 72 years, at least two major companies are scanning and providing photographic images of their Census' on the Internet. The intention is that all available Census' will eventually be available on-line.
If Canada cannot be a leader in this matter, at least we should not be moving backwards.]
In my next column I will publish and critique the Presentation of Dr. Ivan Fellegi to the Senate Committee reviewing Senator Milne's Bill S-12.
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