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Article Published April 11, 2002

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

The Legal Case

Regular readers of this column will be aware that in recent weeks we have proceeded to the Federal Court of Canada seeking an Application for Judicial Review. The purpose of this Application is to obtain a writ of mandamus that would compel Statistics Canada to transfer control of the 1906 Special Census of the Western Province (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) to the National Archivist, Ian Wilson. Once that transfer is effected, these records should be made available to the public in accordance with Regulation 6(d) of the Privacy Act of Canada.

Our Application has been filed, the defendants have filed notices of intent to appear, and affidavits of the plaintiffs have been filed. The Respondents (defendants) originally had until 5 April 2002 to serve us with their affidavits. Our lawyer, Lois Sparling, advises however, that she has consented to an extension to April 15 for the Department of Justice lawyer (acting for the Attorney General, Chief Statistician and National Archivist) but received no such request from the lawyers for the Privacy Commissioner and Information Commissioner. It is unclear at this time if this means that the Privacy Commissioner and Information Commissioner have missed their deadline for presentation of affidavits, or if granting the extension to the other defendants means that their time for presenting their affidavits is also extended.

Following presentation of affidavits by the defense, lawyers for the defence would normally have twenty days in which to cross-examine the plaintiffs. The expected timeframe for this to happen, if it does, is now 15 April to 5 May 2002. It is unknown at this time if the lawyers for the Respondents will want to cross-examine any of us.

There is an interesting situation regarding the legal representation of the Attorney General, Chief Statistician Ivan Fellegi, and National Archivist Ian Wilson by lawyers from Justice Canada. That situation is the fact that we know the positions of Dr. Ivan Fellegi as Chief Statistician, and Ian Wilson as National Archivist, are diametrically opposed to each other. Ivan Fellegi is our nemesis - our main opponent in gaining the access we seek to Historic Census records. Ian Wilson is supportive of our efforts, and is on record as favouring that access in accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act. The question here is "how can the lawyers from Justice Canada represent the positions of both Ivan Fellegi and Ian Wilson?" There is an obvious conflict here. The position of the Attorney General is not known.

The wheels of Justice, or of the legal system (if you distinguish between the two) turn slowly. Things to this point have progressed more rapidly than I expected. It remains to be seen whether they will continue to progress as rapidly from this point on. For those with an interest in such things, the Notice of Application and our Application will be posted on the Post 1901 Census Project website.

Bills C-312 and S-12

By the time you read this, MP Murray Calder's Bill C-312 will have had its "day in court". It was scheduled for one hour of debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday 9 April 2002. A unanimous vote in the House could give consent to make the Bill votable, however I do not think that I will hold my breath waiting for that. A report on what happens will be in my next column.

On Thursday 7 March 2002, during debate in the Senate regarding the Report Stage of Senator Milne's Bill S-12 - an Act to Amend the National Archives of Canada Act and the Statistics Act (census records), Senator Lowell Murray made a motion to refer the Bill back to Committee. His motion was as follows:
    "That Bill S-12 be not now read a third time but that it be referred back to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for further study."
His stated purpose in doing so was to allow Canada's Chief Statistician, Dr. Ivan Fellegi, to respond to a number of statements made by Senator Milne during debate. This even though the statements referred to had echoed those made long before the Committee had made clause-by-clause deliberation of Bill S-12 last December, and for which Dr. Fellegi had had ample time in which to respond. Dr. Fellegi had declined to attend the Committee hearings on 19 September 2002, instead delegating his assistant, Michael Sheridan to appear in his stead.

This motion was post-poned during debate on 7 March so as to allow some consultation with the Chair of the Committee, Senator Michael Kirby, regarding the workload of the Committee and availability of time for the Committee to receive Dr. Fellegi.

On 25 March 2002, following that consultation, Senator Murray once again brought forward his motion to refer S-12 back to the Committee. Based on information gained from consultation with Senator Kirby, Senator Milne was able to amend Senator Murray's motion to add a time limitation within which the Committee would be required to return Bill S-12 to the Senate.

As things stand at this moment, Bill S-12 has been referred back to Committee to allow Dr. Ivan Fellegi the opportunity to appear before them. It is expected that he will appear on Wednesday 17 April 2002. The amended motion referring Bill S-12 back to Committee requires that it be returned to the Senate Chamber no later than Tuesday 30 April 2002.

This further delay, although disappointing, is not necessarily a bad thing, and at least in this instance the delay has had some limits put on it. It should give Senator Milne another crack at dispelling some of the misinformation that has been put out by Statistics Canada and Dr. Fellegi.

It will be interesting to see if Dr. Felligi uses his appearance to further his promotion of the non-existent "promise" of confidentiality without end. It will be interesting also to see if he selectively uses information from the recently held Focus Groups to justify his position. It certainly cannot be justified on the basis of results of the Town Hall Meetings.

Access to Information Requests

On 10 August 2001 I submitted two Access to Information Requests - one to Statistics Canada, and one to Justice Canada. The purpose of these requests was to obtain any and all documentation relating to discussions regarding then Industry Minister Brian Tobin's announcement that 'further broad-based discussion with all Canadians' was required before making a decision on access to Historic Census Records. This announcement was made 15 December 2000; at the same time as recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Access to Historical Census Records were discounted.

Numerous attempts had been made since 26 March 2001 to have Brian Tobin, or Anne McLellan - then Minister of Justice, clarify the situation regarding these 'broad-based discussions'. It was on that date that members of the Access to Information Review Task Force - one of the bodies supposedly charged with conducting those discussion - advised me that a review of Access to Census Records was not a part of their mandate.

After a number of delays, I have finally received from Statistics Canada those records that I sought. The problem is that the bulk of those records contain a great deal of blank space, with hand written notations about statutory exemptions that permitted deletion of the information I was looking forward.

Imagine receiving an email or letter that started "Dear Sir:" at the top of the page, had a lot of blank space following, and finished with "Yours truly" at the bottom. You would then have a good idea of what much of the approximately 50 pages of the response to my request looked like. In one instance the only thing printed on the page was the serialized number used to indicate that it represented a document that had been completely exempted.

From the many exemptions in the documents received one would have thought I was requesting information that affected National Security or current Military operations. I simply wanted to know what was happening with discussions relating to Access to Historic Census Records. Had either Brian Tobin or Anne McLellan seen fit to respond to my informal requests, or to even acknowledge receipt of them, the ATI requests would likely not have been necessary.

I am still waiting for my response from Justice Canada.

Another ATI Request

31 January 2002 saw the last of the Town Hall Meetings held by Environics Research Group on behalf of Statistics Canada. Prior to the commencement of those meetings in December, I had advised Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada, that should the Report of those meetings not be made public within 30 days of receipt of it by Statistics Canada, I would be submitting an ATI Request for it. That Report was due to be submitted by 15 February 2002.

The following is a copy of a letter I mailed Friday 15 March 2002.
    ATIP Coordinator
    Statistics Canada
    Pamela White
    R.H. Coats Bldg., 25-B
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6

    Dear Ms. White.

    As you are aware, Statistics Canada contracted Environics Research Group to conduct a series of Town Hall Meetings and Focus Groups from 14 December 2001 to 31 January 2002. The stated purpose for conducting these meetings and focus groups was to garner the opinions of 'ordinary' Canadians regarding public access of records of Historic Census - specifically those of 1906 and 1911. This, even though Canadians had already stated their support for access to these records through letters and email to their elected and appointed representatives, submissions to the Expert Panel on Access to Historical Census Records, and on petitions sent to the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada.

    To date, in excess of 46,000 signatures have been sent to Ottawa seeking to regain the same public access to Post 1901 Census records that is currently allowed for records up to and including those of 1901.

    Prior to the commencement of the aforementioned Town Hall Meetings and Focus Groups I wrote to Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, advising that should the Report of those proceedings not be made public within 30 days of receipt of that Report by Statistics Canada, I would be submitting an Access to Information Request for it.

    The contracted date for receipt of that Report by Statistics Canada was 15 February 2002. By the time you receive this letter, 30 days will have passed from 15 February 2002 with no indication from Statistics Canada, or the responsible Minister, that there is any immediate intention to make that Report available to the Public.

    We have no desire to wait seven months for the release of this Report, as was the case for the Report of the Expert Panel. We see no reason that the Report may not be released immediately, either with, or without, comment. You are therefore to consider this letter to be my Access to Information Request for that Report. I have enclosed the requisite check for such a request. Thank you.


    Gordon A. Watts
    Co-chair, Canada Census Committee
Professor Bill Waiser of the University of Saskatchewan has also submitted an Access To Information Request for this Report. As of the date of writing, neither of us has received anything more than an acknowledgement of our requests.

Other issues

The purpose of this column, and of our campaign, has been, and still is, to secure the same public access to Post 1901 Census Records of Canada that we currently have for those records up to and including 1901. I have no intention at this time in becoming involved in other campaigns, however there are a number of other issues that readers should be aware of.

In the name of Privacy concerns, various government agencies in different countries are introducing legislation that would severely limit the personal information available to researchers. In recent months, I have heard of some databases that have been removed from, I believe, Rootsweb pages, apparently because of concerns regarding identity theft. I have been unable to relocate the reference I saw and am unsure specifically what the databases contained. What sticks in the back of my mind, however, has to do with cemetery listings in California.

I have recently heard concern being expressed about some proposed changes regarding Vital Statistics in England. These changes are detailed in a document entitled "Civil Registration: Vital Change - Birth, Marriage and Death Registration in the 21st Century". This document is available on line in PDF format at the following URL:

Type Civil Registration in the Search portal and click Find. Of the choices that come up, select the first one, i.e. 17654T TSO Text. This is a comprehensive document that details bringing the system of Birth, Marriage, and Death Registrations of England and Wales into the electronic age. Most of what I read in this document I would view as improvement over the existing system that has its roots in the nineteenth century.

What I see here as the biggest concern that others have expressed is the fact that this document would see certain information, such as addresses, occupations, and cause of death restricted until the age of the individual (living or deceased) reaches 100 years. These are not things that I would be particularly concerned about but they obviously are of concern to some. Even with these restrictions there is still a great deal of information available on those who have not reached the age of 100. There are, of course, other restrictions regarding who is entitled to access what information is still available. Annex C of this document details exactly what would be available, and what is not. There would be no restrictions on accessing information relating to individuals over 100 years of age.

Of greater concern to me at this time are proposed changes to legislation in Ontario. I have recently become aware of a consultation process regarding a Draft Bill - Privacy of Personal Information Act, 2002.

I am not aware of when this consultation process began, but it unfortunately ended 31 March 2002. Regardless of that, I would encourage all who have concerns regarding changes in what information may be accessible in Ontario, and when it may be accessed, to download and read both the Guide to Ontario's Consultation on Privacy Protection and the Consultation on the Draft - Privacy of Personal Information Act, 2002

I have had limited time to digest the information provided in these documents. Some of the things that concern me in what I have read are:
    Disclosure without consent would be limited to the earlier of "150 years after a record containing the information was created, and . 75 years after the death of the individual;"
These time periods appear excessive to me and are far and above what other governments normally apply to similar information.
    The act applies to, (a) the collection of personal information by an organization on or after the day this section comes into force; (b) the use or disclosure of personal information by an organization on or after the day this section comes into force, even if the organization collected the information before that day.
This retroactive application could be interpreted to affect information collected since time began. While I stand to be corrected, or possibly to be accused of being paranoid, taking things to their extremes, this legislation has a potential to remove a great deal of information from the libraries of Ontario. The proposed Ontario legislation goes beyond the existing federal Law - the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) - that was enacted 1 January 2001. The federal legislation deals with how personal information is dealt with in business. In addition to dealing with businesses, Ontario's legislation would affect how not-for-profit organizations could collect, use or disclose personal information. Not-for-profit organizations include genealogical, family history, and historical societies, and so this legislation could have far reaching implications for us. It could possibly restrict the publication of a genealogy or family history.

Although the consultation process for the proposed Ontario legislation has concluded, the proposals are not yet law. The proposals will only become law if passed by the Legislative Assembly. Change can still be affected if sufficient representation is made to Members of the Legislative Assembly. The documents linked above provide information on contacting the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services - the department charged with conducting the consultations on this Bill.

Protection of individual privacy is a commendable goal, so long as it is not taken to unreasonable extremes. In this area, as in all other areas, we must be aware of what our legislators have in mind for us. If we do not like what our legislators are doing, we must be prepared to tell them so. To do otherwise will be to lose rights and privileges that are currently available to us.

Writing letters

Our past efforts in encouraging all to write letters and email to all MPs and Senators have been tremendously successful, and we thank all that have done so. We have had indications that in the offices of many of our elected and appointed representatives, messages regarding support for access to Historic Census Records far outnumber messages received on any other subject. From this we can safely assume that all Members of Parliament and Senators are now most certainly aware of our feelings on this subject.

We have also had indications that, with a new Minister of Industry, some things are once again happening behind the scenes. As such it is perhaps time now for a slight change in tactics to allow those working on our behalf the opportunity to see some results from their efforts.

We still encourage all to write letters to their own Member of Parliament, to those Senators that represent the area in which they live, and of course the applicable Ministers. We would ask, however, for the time being at least, you restrict your letters to your own representatives, and do not send blanket letters and email to all of them.

A few words about your letters and email:

We have been advised that in some cases, messages to our representatives have crossed the boundary from encouraging them to support our point of view, to harassment and demands that they do so. This kind of message only serves to get their back up and even if they were inclined to see things our way, they get angry and say "To h*** with them!" I have been copied on some letters, that had they been directed to me, would have caused this reaction from myself.

Our purpose in writing is to get our representatives to join in our effort, not to antagonize or annoy them. In that regard we should keep the following in mind:
  • Be polite and respectful in your comments.
  • If your purpose in writing is to inform, keep your comments factual.
  • If your purpose is to request their support - request it - don't demand it.
  • Above all, do not let your message be a personal attack on any individual because they might have a different point of view than you do.
I repeat -- be polite and respectful.

In this age of electronic communication it is easy to zip off an email and send it to many people at the same time. I confess to being guilty of frequently doing this myself. We have, however, been reminded lately that many of our representatives would put more stock in, and more readily pay attention to, an individual letter from a constituent (particularly a hand written one) than they would to 100 email from non-constituents.

With this in mind we suggest for the time being, rather than using email you send personal letters via Canada Post. If mailed in Canada there is no postage required to send a letter or parcel to any Member of Parliament or Senator. If your handwriting is legible (mine isn't) use pen and ink to write it. If your handwriting is not legible by all means use your typewriter or word processor to write your letter.

If you receive a response that shows a different position than those shown on the MP or Senator Scoreboards, please forward a copy to me so that their position can be brought up to date.

Of course, in addition to your signature on letters, we still seek new signatures on our petitions. These petitions may be downloaded from the Post 1901 Census Project website .

This website includes a number of letters written by various people seeking support from their elected or appointed representatives. While these letters can be copied and sent by yourself, you are encouraged to use these as examples only, and wherever possible to use your own wording.

One letter of note

I receive copies of many letters that supporters of our efforts send to MPs and Senators. Occasionally one will stand out among the others, and I will include it in my column. The following letter was included with a Non-Resident petition. I felt it worthy of being passed on to my readers.
    Dear Canadian Politicians: We the undersigned (54 signatures on a petition) are genealogists and family historians of southern Oregon and we strongly protest the attempt to close the Canadian Census records from the 1900's to public access.

    Although we are current residents and citizens of United States, many of our ancestors were Canadians. They were taxpayers and hardworking farmers, fishermen and business people of all regions of Canada - the backbone of another great nation. Some of them broke their backs to break the land and earn the coveted original land Patents and Homesteads to new Canadian farmland. Many are buried in Canadian cemeteries near the farms they built for Canada and their later families. Please do not deny their existence and the hard work they did for your great country by preventing us from finding out about them in this way of researching. Census records are invaluable to us in finding out about our past, which is also your past.

    Probably the author (of this cover letter of the petition) is the only full-blooded dual Canadian and US Citizen in this petition, but many of us also have families who have been back and forth legally many, many times since 1776. We cannot erase that past and their reasons for moving on to better land or better jobs through the 1800's and 1900's.

    Most of those Canadian ancestors we are seeking were Americans before that. Some of them went to Canada as UE Loyalists who simply liked the British better but many of them also went as Quakers who refused to fight for anyone in a time when only the Canadian British would take them in. Many of those were in truth American refugees from the US as their lands had been taken away from them when pacifism was NOT an acceptable alternative for ANY Americans.

    After several generations in Canada many of those early Canadians were among the thousands who left Canada to follow the newly popular Mormons in their long trek westward across the US. Many of the first LDS members were new converts from Ontario's Essex County before that. Others who had been in Canada for at least 3 generations went on to Wisconsin, Iowa and elsewhere when the land there was almost free, and then on to the west when they could farm on both sides of the border fairly easily. You may know that almost everyone in the Souris, North Dakota, and Delloraine, Manitoba area came from Dufferin County Ontario before that in the 1900 timeframe.

    As immigrants from Europe joined and married all these former US origin families through the 1800's and 1900's the families continued to cross and re-cross the border while some lines stayed on one side for numerous generations.

    In our attempts to learn why our Canadian ancestors moved around as much as they did we really need the Canadian Census records to help find out the details. Please do not hide your past and your history by denying that our Canadian ancestors were valuable and honorable Canadian Citizens during the 1900's. If these Census records are lost from public access now when they should be released, you will be taking away the contribution made to Canada by some of your most valuable older citizens.

    They are gone but we have not forgotten them. You shouldn't either.

    Respectfully submitted,
    M. Ruthanne Page
Until next time, Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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