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Article Published January 9, 2002

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

The next step

The time has come - your help is needed now!

For some time discussions have been taking place regarding the possibility of taking the federal government to Court to obtain a 'writ of mandamus'. If this action is successful - and we have every reason to believe it would be - it would force Statistics Canada to turn control of the 1906 Special Census of the Western Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) over to the National Archivist for immediate release to the Public. Such release would be in accordance with Regulations attached to the Privacy Act. A successful action to obtain the 1906 Census would likely set the precedent we need for the the 1911 and subsequent Census records to be made available to the public in accordance with Regulations attached to the Privacy Act.

Lois Sparling, a lawyer in Calgary - and an active participant in our campaign - has been making preliminary preparations for such an action. Several plaintiffs have been lined up and an estimate of costs for proceeding has been put together. Lois will be contributing her time, but even considering that, it is expected that costs could be about $8000. This includes provision for the remote possibility that costs could be assessed against the plaintiffs.

Over the course of our campaign several people have made offers of financial assistance to aid in our efforts. Up to now these offers have been refused with thanks. However, as the Walrus said in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland - ' The time has come.'

We are now seeking your assistance in providing the funding necessary to proceed with our action against the government. Without the necessary funding we will be unable to proceed!

The estimated $8,000 required is made up of approximately $3,000 expected to be needed for expenses (no legal fees), couriers, long distance telephone calls and faxes, filing fees and the cost of transcripts. The balance ($5,000) is to protect the Plaintiffs in the unlikely event that costs are assessed against us by the Court. It is unlikely that costs will be awarded against us because, first of all, we would have to lose, and secondly, the Federal Court is reluctant to award costs against Plaintiffs in a public interest case.

It is expected that we may be in a position to refund part of these donations. We believe the fair thing is to make the refunds on a pro rata basis, i.e. a percentage to everybody. There are practical limitations to this however. We cannot possibly do this for a lot of $5 donations. Therefore, pro rated refunds will be made for only those donations of $100 (Cdn) or more.

We suggest that people get together to combine their donations. Approach your local genealogical and historical associations to make a contribution. Pass the hat at your meetings and send a cheque from your local group. In that way your local group will get any refund that might be forthcoming.

    Send your cheques to:

    Lois Sparling
    Vallance & Company
    Barristers & Solicitors
    Suite 1400
    550 - 6 Ave SW
    Calgary, Alberta T2V 3H4

Cheques should be made out to "Lois Sparling - in trust". Make the notation "Census Action" on the cheque. Lois will be the lawyer representing the Plaintiffs in the case. The funds will be deposited to her trust account. Lois has the means to accept US and other foreign currencies, and can also accept contributions through VISA. Transactions through VISA however, are more trouble than cheques -- and each transaction costs us 2.4 percent.

A receipt will be issued for each and every contribution received. It will keep costs down if groups can collect from their members and send one cheque thus requiring the need to issue only one receipt. Make sure to include a covering letter or note with your full name and mailing address.

As noted above, Lois is donating her time and expertise, and no part of the monies contributed to the legal case, other than costs, will go to her. A huge amount of work is involved in this action. Two other lawyers have offered assistance -- one from her office, and another member of the AFHS -- their experience in this kind of action, however, is limited.

Normally the loser in a court action pays costs to the winner. These costs follow a chart set out in the relevant Rules of Court and are only intended to be a partial payment of legal fees. If our Plaintiffs are awarded costs it is felt that Lois, and the assisting lawyers, should get this money as partial reimbursement for their time, effort and expertise, aka their legal fees.

Town Hall Meetings

Christmas is over and we are now into the New Year -- 2002. Time to get back to work.

As I write this, the afternoon Town Hall Meeting in Halifax is likely about to wind up and I will be looking forward to the reports of those attending it and the evening meeting in a few hours. The next Town Hall meetings are coming up on 9, 11, 14, 16 and 18 January in Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton, Charlottetown and St. John's respectively. While I have been advised of some participants scheduled for these meetings, there are certainly others that I am not aware of. If you have not already done so, itt would be appreciated if anyone scheduled to speak or attend these meetings would please advise me.

From the Ottawa meetings it is obvious that Statistics Canada has directed Environics to be on the lookout for certain things. Questions asked by the moderator show that they are looking for any indication that knowledge Census records would be released after 92 years will lessen individuals participation in Census, or lessen their trust in Statistics Canada in general.

Presentations to the Town Hall meetings should include wording that would show just the opposite -- participation in Census and trust in Statistics Canada would increase with knowledge of eventual release of Census records.

Chief Statistician Dr. Ivan Fellegi has changed the focus of his attack on our efforts from the strictly legal (because he knows he would lose), to one of a fear of lessening the integrity of the statistical agency. He still insists on promoting the non-existant 'promise' of never-ending confidentiality even though he has been unable to produce any documented evidence of it. Our counter to their insistence there is a 'promise' is to ask them to produce evidence of it. The legislation quoted by them certainly does not contain any 'promise' that confidentiality of Census will never end.

Another main thrust of the Town Hall meetings is to promote the so-called 'Compromise Solution'. Copies of this 'compromise' were made available to all attending the Ottawa meeting and it is expected that this will be repeated at all upcoming meetings. Every speaker at the Ottawa meeting was asked if the 'compromise' was something they could support. Every speaker rejected it. To see a copy of this 'compromise', and my critique of it, visit my column regarding it at

After reading the 'compromise' please send me your comments regarding it. Please make your comments relevant to the 'compromise' suggested rather than to my critique. I will be sending many of these to Environics and Statistics Canada. My intent at this time would be to include senders names (unless requested not to) but not email or snail mail addresses.

Further reports of the Ottawa Town Hall meeting and a critique of Dr. Ivan Fellegi's presentation to the Senate Committee are in my column at

The full schedule of Town Hall meetings, and information regarding how to register as a speaker or to attend as part of the audience, is at the Environics Research Group website at

Obtaining information regarding the Town Hall meetings is relatively simple -- that is available from those who request to participate or attend, and who give us reports on what has taken place. Getting information regarding what takes place in the Focus Group studies that follow each Town Hall meeting is quite another thing. Participants in the Focus Groups do not apply or volunteer as is the case for the Town Hall meetings -- they are chosen at random through telephone polls and must meet certain criteria to be accepted. We know little about the criteria, or about information given and questions asked of participants. We would appreciate anyone participating in these Focus Groups letting us know what takes place in them.

We cannot stress enough the importance of participating in these Town Hall meetings. The worst thing we can do is have any of these meetings take place without our presence. Participating as observers in the audience is important also to show our interest in these proceedings and to show our support for access.

Please keep us up to date on what happens at these meetings.

Bills C-312 and S-12

Contrary to what you might have heard elsewhere, Murray Calder's Bill C-312 is not yet dead. While it was deemed non-votable by the sub-committee relegated to deliberate on such things, it will still receive one hour of debate in the House of Commons before being dropped from the order of precedence. While it is possible that a unanimous vote in the House could reverse the decision of the sub-committee, it is unlikely that unanimous consent would be given, particularly as there will be at least one MP speaking against the Bill in the House.

Even if unanimous consent to make C-312 votable was not received, the ensuing debate will serve to pave the way for Bill S-12, should it pass the Senate and be referred to the House of Commons. We are optimistic that the Senate will pass S-12, however we must keep up our efforts to obtain the support of both Senators and Members of Parliament.

Letters and e-mail vs. petitions

In showing support for public access to Historic Census records, there are those who feel that letters and email are more effective than signatures on petiions. It is not my intention here to promote one over the other. It is my opinion that both are equally important.

Personal communications to our elected or appointed representatives have at different times been said to carry more weight than do numbers of signatures on petitions. It has been suggested that personal hand-written letters receive the greatest attention from our officials, followed by typewritten letters, and then by e-mail.

What personal communications do not do is to show us how many of them have been written and sent. Signatures on petitions, however, can be counted and added together to give an indication of how many people have been supportive of the reason for the petition. We are able to state that in excess of 40,000 signatures have been received, or that more than 45,000 signatures have supported public access to Historic Census records. We have no way of knowing how many letters have been sent.

We encourage all to write their representatives to seek their support for our efforts. We also encourage all to sign petitions that will allow us to demonstrate increasing numbers of those who seek access to these important records.

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 Please note that file names on the server on which these pages reside are case sensitive. The 'C' in 'Census' must be upper case. At this website you will find:
  • An explanation of the Census situation - what has happened, how we got here, and where we go from here.
  • Scoreboards for Members of Parliament and Senators showing how they have responded, or failed to respond, to questions of how they would vote on a Bill to regain public access to Historic Census Records.
  • Correspondence logs for each Member of Parliament and Senator.
  • E-mail links for each Member of Parliament and Senator.
  • Links to various related websites - government Bills and Statutes, submissions to the Expert Panel on Access to Historical Census Records, Environics Research public opinion poll, Report of the Expert Panel, and more.
  • Links to extracts from Hansard for the House of Commons and the Senate debates relating to the Census issue.
  • Links to past Global Gazette articles written by Gordon A. Watts
  • Downloadable petitions for the House of Commons and the Senate, in both official languages, for residents of Canada, and a Non-Resident petition for those living outside of Canada.
  • Sample letters.
  • Links to various websites having information related to Census and genealogy.
Until next time, Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

  • Global Gazette articles regarding Census Project

  • Click here for official Census Project Web site

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