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Article Published January 25, 2002

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament


"The time has come" the Walrus said "to talk of other things." is a line from Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland '.

At this time things seem to be proceeding well with Senator Lorna Milne's Bill S-12. However it is far from certain that it will be passed in the Senate, and then again in the House of Commons. Having the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology pass Bill S-12 without amendment was a major step forward, however there is still a long way to go - and no guarantees.

Therefore, another 'angle of attack' is being pursued. It is not intended to replace our campaign of letter writing and signing of petitions, but is intended as an additional, parallel, action.

For some time discussions have been taking place regarding the possibility of taking the government to Federal Court to obtain a 'writ of mandamus' for release of the 1906 Special Census of the Western Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). Lois Sparling, a lawyer in Calgary - and an active participant in our campaign - heads a small team of lawyers from across the country and 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 and the other lawyers will be contributing their 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, a number of 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 - 'The time has come.'

We now seek contributions from readers to help finance this legal action. This action cannot proceed until financial support has been secured. A single posting to a number of genealogy mail lists have helped us reach a part, but not all, of our financial goal. If you wish to assist in this effort please note the following:
  • Cheques should be made out to "Lois Sparling - in trust". She is the lawyer who will be representing the Plaintiffs in the case. The funds will be deposited to her trust account. Make the notation "Census Action" on the cheque. Lois has many other files and receives cheques from clients most days.
  • Receipts will be issued for each and every cheque received. It will keep costs down if groups can collect from their members and send one cheque (because then only one receipt needs to be issued).
  • Our fund-raising goal is $8,000. The $8,000 is made up of approximately $3,000 expected to be required 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 awarded against us. 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 we may be in a position to refund part of these donations. In that event the fair thing would to make the refunds on a pro rata basis, i.e. a percentage to everybody. We cannot possibly do this for a lot of $5.00 donations. Therefore, pro-rated refunds will be made only for donations of $100 (Cdn) or more. We suggest that people get together to combine their donations. Pass the hat at your meetings and send a cheque from your local group so that the group will get the refund.
  • If our Plaintiffs are awarded "costs", we feel this money should go to Lois and her team of lawyers for their time, effort and expertise, aka legal fees. A huge amount of work is involved in this action. Note that 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. No part of contributions to the legal fund will be used for this purpose.
  • Send your cheques to Lois Sparling at:
    Vallance & Company
    Barristers & Solicitors
    Suite 1400
    550 - 6 Ave SW
    Calgary, Alberta T2V 3H4
  • For those who prefer to make contributions to the legal fund via credit card, arrangements have been made to do so. Click here to find out how.
You may ask, and some have, "Why is the action only for the 1906 Census and not for the 1911 and subsequent Census records as well?" The simple answer is that the purpose of a 'writ of mandamus', as I understand it, is to force the government to obey existing legislation. To date, the only Census that should have been released, and that has not been, is that of the 1906 Special Census of the Western Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). The National Census of 1911 would not normally be made accessible to the public until 2003 and until the legislated time of release has passed without it being made accessible, the legislation has not been violated. A 'writ of mandamus' is valid only for past violations of legislation - not for violations that have not yet occurred.

It is expected that a successful action for a writ of mandamus to transfer control of the 1906 records to the National Archives (and subsequent access by the public) would automatically be applied to the 1911 Census records in 2003. It is also expected that it would pave the way for access to subsequent records as well.

Our legal action should not be considered a substitute for our other efforts. Letters to our MPs and Senators seeking support for access and for Bill S-12, and signatures on petitions, are still required.


As I write this, Town Hall meetings seeking the opinions of "ordinary citizens" regarding access to information contained in Census records, after a reasonable period of closure, continue. These meetings, conducted by Environics Research Group under contract from Statistics Canada, are due to conclude with the meeting in Vancouver on 30 January. The report of Environics is to be submitted to Statistics Canada by 15 February.

Reports of several making submissions to these meetings have been received, and some of those submissions have been placed on new pages of the Post 1901 Census Project website. Reports of observers have also been received. Rather than copy a number of those submissions and reports in this column I would refer you to the website at

I hope, and request, that those who have not already done so to please send me copies of their submissions and reports on their impressions of these meetings, so that they may also be posted on the website. Please advise me also of anyone that is intending to make submissions at meetings yet to be held.

There have been some complaints regarding certain events regarding these meetings and the focus groups that follow each. I sent a message to Statistics Canada detailing these complaints. Statistics Canada referred my message to Environics for response and, for the most part, I am satisfied with the response received from them.

Some participants and observers have referred to frequent reiteration of 'the promise' and to the distribution of the 'compromise solution' to those attending, and subsequent questioning regarding these items. I am assured that it is not a matter of the moderator believing 'the promise' or 'pushing' the 'compromise solution' but simply a matter of Environics living up to the terms of their contract with Statistics Canada. That contract called for obtaining opinions regarding these items, hence the questions regarding them. They have most certainly been getting opinions regarding them.

To my knowledge, only two presenters to date have supported closure of Historic Census records. Both of those presenters were bureaucratic employees in statistical agencies of the Province of Nova Scotia. All other presenters have supported access after the 92-year period of closure specified in Regulations attached to the Privacy Act. At least one presenter suggested that the period of closure could be shorter, and one has suggested it could be longer. Almost without exception, presenters have rejected the so-called 'compromise solution' as being discriminatory, too restrictive, too expensive, and bureaucratically impossible to administer.

Presenters have also discounted the fears expressed by Statistics Canada that knowledge information from Census would be accessible after 92 years would cause respondents to be less likely to participate fully and truthfully in Census, and cause them to be less trusting of Statistics Canada. They also discount the idea that allowing access will damage the integrity and reputation of Statistics Canada. To the contrary, continuing to refuse access to the records after 92 years is more likely to damage that reputation, reduce cooperation in Census, and reduce trust in the agency, than allowing that access will do. Continuing to base their opposition to access on a promise that they cannot prove was ever made, and which they continue to promote, does little to enhance the trust and cooperation of the Canadian people or to enhance the reputation of Statistics Canada.

Some presenters and observers at the Town Hall meetings have expressed the opinion that certain individuals were invited to participate and that they were 'planted' to oppose access. While Environics has admitted to inviting people from various areas to participate, they indicate that they are interested in the opinions of a wide variety of people, regardless of what those opinions are. A number of people from different organizations have been invited to participate, but Environics has assured me that they have not been invited to 'oppose' access, only to express their own opinions.

Written submissions from those unable to attend the Town Hall meetings are being accepted by Environics and anyone wishing to make such a submission should do so now so that they are received by Environics no later than the end of January. Environics is not actively soliciting written submission and has not stipulated this time frame but considering when they are required to report to StatCan (15 February) it is a reasonable deadline to expect. Send your submissions to Environics at:

Anyone making such written submissions please copy me so that they can be added to the Post-1901 Census Project website.

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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