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Article Published February 12, 2002

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

We are going to court!

On Tuesday 5 February 2002 an Application for Judicial Review was filed in the Federal Court of Canada. This application seeks a 'writ of mandamus' that would compel Statistics Canada to transfer control of the records of the 1906 Special Census of the Western Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) to the National Archivist, Ian Wilson. In accordance with Regulation 6(d) of the Privacy Act, once under control of the National Archives, these records could be made available, 92 years after collection, to any person or body for purposes of research.

Lois Sparling, a Calgary lawyer, and active member of the Canada Census Committee, filed this Application for Judicial Review. We have eleven plaintiffs from across the country that have reason to want access to the 1906 Census. These plaintiffs are, of course, simply a token representation of the tens of thousands of genealogists and historians who seek access to these records.

Lois provided the following profiles of the plaintiffs:
    Mertie Beatty lives in Calgary and is a member of AFHS. Her grandfather, Wasyl Werenka, came to Canada from Bukovenia in 1903. He returned to Europe and then came back to Alberta, settling in Edmonton with his family. One of his daughters was born in Europe in 1906. Mertie does not know whether or not he was in Canada at the time of the 1906 census.

    Muriel Davidson is a genealogist living in Brampton, Ontario and is the backbone of the Census Campaign mailing list. She is working closely with Senator Lorna Milne to collect signatures for the Petition supporting Senator Milne's Private Members Bill to make legislative amendments ensuring the release of census returns after 92 years. Her submission to the Expert Panel was entitled "Genetically Inherited Diseases". Muriel did not have family living on the prairies in 1906. Muriel wants to set a precedent for the release of the 1911 Census to the National Archives in 2003. She also sympathizes with her fellow family historians who need to see the nominal returns of the 1906 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in order to make progress in their research.

    Dave Obee of Victoria, B.C. is a professional genealogist, editor, author and the owner of Interlink Bookshop. He uses the available census material for the Prairies intensely. He has indexed parts of them and has compiled a finding aid for the 1901 census. Dave's own ancestors were in southern Manitoba and his wife's ancestors were in southern Alberta in 1906. His wife's paternal grandfather arrived in Macleod from Ireland in 1903. The 1906 census would be the first to record him in Canada.

    Beverley Rees is another member of the AFHS here in Calgary and a professional genealogist. Her great grandparents, Thomas Palecek and Maria Levorova, and her grandmother, Anna Palecekova, moved from Czechoslovakia to Coleman, Alberta in 1905 in search of a better life. They joined relatives who had immigrated earlier. The men worked in the coalmines in the area to support their families while the women stayed home to raise the children.

    Louise Sauve of Calgary has served on the Board of the AFHS. She has ancestors (Schum, Mohr and perhaps Massier) who immigrated to Regina from Bukovenia in approximately 1903. Bukovenia is in Romania.

    Jean Stanley lives northeast of Bancroft, Ontario at Combermere. That's near Algonquin Provincial Park (look straight north from Belleville or straight west from Ottawa on your map). Her husband's family went to Alberta in 1906 and returned to Ontario in 1915.

    Marilyn Taylor is a member of AFHS. Her grandfather, Juozas Marcinkevicius, was born in Neimistius, Lithuania. He was brought to Canada by the CPR in 1904 to work on the railroad at Carlstadt, Alberta. Carlstadt was renamed Alderson and is now a ghost town. Her grandfather changed is name to Joseph Frank Moka at some point.

    Bill Waiser is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. He is being funded by the Saskatchewan government to write a book on the history of Saskatchewan for that province's centennial in 2005. Access to the nominal returns of the 1906 census of Saskatchewan is critical to his research. Those are the best if not only records of the families pouring into the province at that time; an irreplaceable "snapshot" of the people.

    Sheila Ward lives in Toronto and is a member of the Ontario Genealogical Society, the Saskatchewan Genealogy Society and the Society of Genealogists. She is researching her family roots in Saskatchewan and the U.K. Her paternal grandfather was a Barr Colonist who settled near North Battleford in 1903, and then later helped settle the Christopher Lake area north of Prince Albert. Her maternal grandparents settled in Avonlea, Saskatchewan. She is researching McClelland, Ward and Davy in Saskatchewan.

    Gordon Watts lives in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Gordon wrote an excellent submission to the Expert Panel on the release of the historic census and has been a major force in organizing the Canadian family history community for this campaign. His maternal grandparents, James Daniel and Elizabeth Belle (Cameron) Perrin, were Canadians who met in the U.S. Their respective brother and sister also married each other. These two couples homesteaded side by side at Fairmount, Saskatchewan, about 12 miles southwest of Kindersley. Gordon would like to see the 1906 census in hopes of clarifying when they came to Saskatchewan and the place and date of birth of one of his aunts.

    Tom Worman has also served on the AFHS Board. His maternal great grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Feradi, emigrated from Pomerania to the United States. In 1904, they moved with their family to Alberta.
Named as defendants in this application are Dr. Ivan Fellegi - Chief Statistician of Canada, George Radwanski - Privacy Commissioner, Ian Wilson - National Archivist, John Reid - Information Commissioner, and the Attorney General of Canada. While Ian Wilson and John Reid are named as defendants, it is know that both are supportive of public access to Historic Census Records.

We have every reason to believe that our effort to obtain a writ of mandamus will be successful. If successful we expect that it will pave the way for access to subsequent Census records.

This application is a parallel action to our efforts in the past several years to regain access to these records. We continue to encourage individuals to write to their elected representatives and to sign petitions seeking access to these records. To date, in excess of 42,000 signatures have been sent to Ottawa. We also support identical Private Member Bills in the House of Commons and the Senate (Bill C-312 and Bill S-12 respectively) that would provide the access we seek.

Town Hall Meetings completed - now we wait and see.

With the meetings at Vancouver on Wednesday 30 November 2002, and the Focus Groups the next day, the series of meetings and focus groups held by Environics Research Group dealing with public access to Historic Census came to an end. The report resulting from these meetings is due to be submitted to Statistics Canada by 15 February 2002. We will be watching for it's release to the public and look forward to seeing the results that it contains. From all reports received so far regarding these meetings, the overwhelming numbers of presenters have supported access with only three or four opposing it. Perhaps one or two have supported the 'compromise solution' or 'third option' but the vast majority has rejected it outright.

Attendance at the Vancouver meetings was disappointing - perhaps because of the weather, although it was not that bad. Nothing like the outstanding attendance at the meetings in Edmonton, each of which have more than 100 attendees - setting the record for these meetings. In Vancouver, 16 attended in the afternoon and 18 in the evening. On asking, I was advised that there was only a single advertisement about the meeting in the Business Section of the Vancouver Sun on 23 January. This might help explain the low attendance. While the attendance was disappointing, the quality of the presentations was not.

A number of those attending and some making presentations were people that I have corresponded with but had not met before. Among those were Candy-Lea Chickite from Campbell River and Roz Griston from the Sunshine Coast (my apologies if I have the locations wrong). Also there was Lyn Duncan, who I had met once before, and with whom I had a pleasant conversation as I drove her home to White Rock after the evening session.

Scheduled speakers at the afternoon session were:

Candy-Lea Chickite - spoke on the need of Census for First Nations people for various reasons, not the least of which was to establish their entitlement to rights accorded to registered Band members. Candy-Lea has been a Census enumerator and spoke on her experience relating to that experience and the fact that most people she spoke to in that capacity wanted their information available in the future.

Carol Graham - a retired librarian, spoke on the need of Census for documenting the life of the common person. She also spoke of the need to be able to identify people in our ancestry who may have been subject to genetic diseases. Her own family has been affected by retinitis - a genetic disease that eventually causes blindness. Census is important in this regard so people can find out if they are at risk.

Eric Sager - Professor of History at University of Victoria and Director of the Canadian Families Project. Professor Sager spoke on the importance of Census as an Historical Treasure, or Monument, which seeks to preserve and to commemorate all Canadians -- famous and anonymous, rich and poor, young and old, women and men in all parts of the country -- all of them named in one great Memorial. He explained how the 1901 Census has been used in the Canadian Families Project and how release of subsequent Census would enhance their study of the Canadian family.

Roz Griston - also spoke of genetically inherited diseases, in particular one that has affected her family -- Prolonged QT Syndrome. She suggested that Dr. Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada should take a well-deserved retirement.

Non-scheduled speakers included

Neil Sutherland - a retired professor from UBC. He spoke regarding use of Census in tracing treatment of children in relation to fostering etc. He raised a number of questions he would like to see answers to, including how foster children were described in the household in which they lived.

Stephanie Kurmey - librarian in the genealogy section of the Cloverdale Public Library. Described the use of those facilities and the frequent use of their microform reader by people searching for their roots. Indicated that the most frequently used information by those visiting the library were the Census records.

Lyn Duncan - spoke on need of Census for tracing genetic disease, not only for physical ailments, but of mental disease as well.

Janet Tompkins - supported access to the records.

When there were no others wishing to speak I spoke briefly on a couple of points that would not be covered in my presentation at the evening session. I mentioned other records readily available with information at least as personal as Census. These included the 1940 Civil Registration of all people in Canada, online C.E.F. Attestation Papers of those Canadians serving in WW I, and the fact that I was able to obtain the full military record of my grandfather.

Only two speakers were scheduled for the evening session -- myself and Sherry Edmunds-Flett - Doctoral Candidate at Simon Fraser University, and member of the Abbotsford Genealogical Society. Sherry had an impressive list of degrees and credentials, which I neglected to include in my notes. Her presentation supported access to Census and she explained the importance of access to Post 1901 Census in relation to studies she is currently conducting on women in Canada. Her study, as I understand what she said, is concentrating on African-Canadian Women in Canada, and in particular, African-Canadian Women in British Columbia.

In my own submission I covered most of the points that Statistics Canada has been concerned about. I explained that the 'promise' that confidentiality of census was intended to last 'forever' did not exist, and that Statistics Canada had been unable to produce a single piece of documented evidence of such a promise. I suggested that with the lack of any such evidence Statistics Canada should cease to make reference to it. I suggested that in that regard they should either put up -- or shut up. I presented the moderator with a copy of my critique of the 'compromise solution' and stated that no genealogist or historian could possibly accept it because it was discriminatory, too restrictive and too expensive to administer.

As my presentation was six pages of single spaced type I had to speak rapidly to get it all in. An Environics worker informed me that he had timed my presentation and I went 30 seconds over the allotted 15 minutes. With only two scheduled speakers, the moderator questioned me somewhat longer than the normal five minutes but did not ask anything that I was unable to answer.

Non-scheduled speakers included:

Dana Taylor - expressed surprise that no one was in attendence making a case for the opposition. Dana raised some laughter from those attending by suggesting the 'promise' may have been something conjured up in a 'séance' of former Prime Minister Mackenzie King. He expressed his opinion that suppression of the Census was a result of the "supreme arrogance of faceless bureaucrats".

Fay Hicks - indicated that her family had come up from the US somewhere around 1909. Her family has Parkinson's, another genetically inherited disease. She has no living family to ask and requires access to the 1911 Census to build her family tree in order to trace the source of the Parkinson's in her family.

Vivian Kranenburg - spoke about the revenue that genealogy and historical research brings by those seeking to add to their family tree and that one of the main source of information sought by these people was the Census. She urged the moderator to tell the government that Census would be opened and that Canada was 'open for business'.

Elizabeth Walker - a retired librarian spoke in support of access.

Angus Gunn - a lawyer, supported access and spoke of the importance of census as a legal facility. (Should Angus read this, and have family connections to Nova Scotia, please contact me regarding a possible connection between your GUNNs and my mother's line of PERRIN)

Gordon Elliott - retired History Professor and author. Explained the need for Census in a project to compile the history of a small community in BC. Commented on the minimal advertising of these meetings. Asked if the refusal to allow access had to do with today's obsession with 'political correctness'. Suggested that people had already stated their support for access through the Report of the Expert Panel and asked if the government was 'deaf and dumb'. Stated that these meetings were a waste of our time and the taxpayers money.

As indicated above, the Final Report on these meetings and focus groups is due to be presented to Statistics Canada by 15 February 2002. Dr. Ivan Fellegi and Statistics Canada have been advised that if the Report is not made available to the public within thirty days of this date, an Access to Information Request for it will be submitted. We are not prepared to wait the seven months that it took for us to finally see the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census Records.

Many of the presentations made at these meetings have been placed on the Post 1901 Census Project website located at

Until next time, Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

  • Global Gazette articles regarding Census Project

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