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Article Published May 28, 2002

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

The next step

During our campaign to regain public access to Historic Census Records we have used a variety of methods to make our needs known. We have written to MPs and Senators, to the Expert Panel, and various Ministers. We participated in the Town Hall Meetings held in December and January. Our recent brief tactic of faxing polite requests to Industry Minister Allan Rock was, we believe, a successful effort. We have finally resorted to making an Application to the Federal Court for a Judicial Review that we expect will result in a 'writ of mandamus' that would compel the release of the 1906 Census of the Western Provinces.

Arising out of our legal Application for a Judicial Review and my recent cross-examination by Justice Canada lawyers comes a suggestion for another step in our campaign.

During my cross-examination by Justice Canada lawyers, my impression was that they felt anyone wanting access to the 1906 Census records should make Access to Information Requests to Statistics Canada and/or the National Archives, and when this is refused a complaint should be submitted to the Information Commissioner. This is certainly not the method we would like to see as the norm for those seeking access to Historic Census Records. However, it may be a method of getting a point across.

Our suggestion at this time is that we should accommodate these learned individuals. We suggest that everyone interested in genealogical or historical research submit an Access to Information Request for the schedules of the 1906 Census of the Western Provinces to either Statistics Canada or the National Archives of Canada, or preferably to both.

Having made this suggestion I must now advise that anyone submitting such a request is required by the ATI Act to submit with each request a check for five dollars made out to the "Receiver General of Canada". Each department handles their own ATI requests. As such, each must receive an original request -- not a copy of one sent to the other department, and each must be accompanied by it's own check for $5.00. They may, however, be worded similarly. Addresses to send them to are shown below. At the discretion of the department to which the Request is submitted this check may, or may not, be returned.

Some readers may be deterred by the requirement for submitting a $5.00 check with each request. We expect each and every request for access to the 1906 Census to be denied. My own experience with a denied request was that my check was returned with that denial. My expectation is that with the refusal of our requests, all checks will be returned. I cannot, however, guarantee that this will happen.

ATI legislation restricts those able to submit an Access to Information Request to permanent residents of Canada. Unfortunately this requirement eliminates the participation of our many supporters from outside of Canada.

Access to Information Requests may be made simply by writing a letter, or by downloading forms (in Word, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF formats) from a Government of Canada website at: Your message need not be lengthy. Use your own words to say something like the following:
    "As a family historian and genealogist I have a requirement to view and obtain information regarding my ancestors from Historic Census Records. The Privacy Act of Canada, and Regulations attached thereto, provides that information from Census may be made available to any person or body, for purposes of research, 92 years after collection. This message is to be considered my Request, under the Access to Information Act, for access to schedules of the 1906 Census of the Western Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). Thank you."
Adjust the wording to suit your personal circumstance, but be specific about needing to view the records for the 1906 Census. There is no requirement in the legislation to specify a reason for making an ATI request. At this time we seek general, not specific, access to the 1906 Census, so your request should not seek access to any specific area, individual or family (that could be done for a subsequent future request). If you specify an individual name you are likely to be advised how to make a 'Census Pensions Search' at a cost of about $48.15. Because we seek general access to the records you need not actually have a known individual or family from Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba to make this request.

Address your requests to:

Statistics Canada
ATIP Co-ordinator, Pamela White
R.H. Coats Building, 25th Floor
Tunney's Pasture
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6

National Archives of Canada
ATIP Co-ordinator, Bill Wood
395 Wellington Street, Room 349
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N3

Departments receiving ATI requests are required by law to respond within thirty days of receipt of your request. When you receive their official denial of your request, and we expect that it will be denied, you are then entitled to complain about this denial to the Information Commissioner of Canada. It is important that in addition to making the ATI Request you follow through with a complaint when it is denied. There is no charge to make such a complaint. Address your complaint to:

Mr. John Reid
Information Commissioner of Canada
Place de Ville, Tower B
112 Kent Street, 22nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1H3

So that we might be able to have some idea of how many ATI requests are made for the 1906 records I would ask that you send me a copy of your Request. These may be sent to me as an attachment to an email, by fax at (604) 942-6843, or by snail mail to:

Gordon A. Watts
1455 Delia Drive
Port Coquitlam, BC
V3C 2V9

As mentioned above, requests under Access to Information are restricted to residents of Canada. This does not, however, prevent those living outside of Canada from making informal requests for information from Census. It simply means that requests are not made under Access to Information legislation. It also means that when such requests are denied, there is no recourse of complaint to the Information Commissioner. Non-residents making an informal request for access to the 1906 Census Records are not required to submit the $5.00 check.

Yet another step

I have recently received an indication that our efforts to regain public access to Historic Census Records in Canada is having an effect. While it is not widely visible (or even minutely visible) to most, I am advised that our efforts are putting great pressure on the government to get the Census issue resolved.

There are, of course, still those in government and bureacratic circles who oppose our efforts in this regard. One of those is Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski. In his testimony before the Senate Committee reviewing Bill S-12, Mr. Radwanski stated that while he opposed Bill S-12, his opposition to public access of Historic Census Records was not as strong as was his predecessor, Bruce Phillips. He indicated that on a scale of one to ten, it was not a high priority on his list.

It seems that Mr. Radwanski has changed his mind on this and he is now digging in his heels on the Census issue. It is therefore time to add yet another step to our campaign. We must let Mr. Radwanski know, in no uncertain terms, just how important it is to us that Post 1901 Census Records in Canada be made available on the same basis as records up to and including those of 1901 are currently available.

We therefore encourage ALL genealogists and historians who wish to regain public access to Historic Census Records to write to Mr. Radwanski advising him of the importance of these records to us, and our desire to have access to him. As has been done in the past -- in letters to Members of Parliament and Senators -- feel free to advise him regarding our reasons for seeking this access. As Mr. Radwanski has no vote on Bill S-12, our letters to him should not be seeking specific support for it.

Send your snail-mail letters to him at the following address.
    Mr. George Radwanski
    Privacy Commissioner of Canada
    112 Kent Street
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 1H3
Mr. Radwanski, for reasons of security, appears to prefer snail-mail and I have been unable to find a personal e-mail address for him. The website for the Privacy Commissioner, however, gives the following address for General Inquiries. I would encourage all to use both methods to communicate our desires to Mr. Radwanski. When using email, include the above snail-mail above in your salutation.

This effort is to be considered a concurrent step, not a replacement, for puttting in Access to Information Requests for the 1906 Census Records to Statistics Canada and the National Archives of Canada. We continue to encourage making those Requests as well as writing to Mr. Radwanski.

Unlike the ATI Requests, there is no legislative restriction that prevents non-residents from participating in this effort. Those living outside of Canada should feel free to write your letters as well.

Also, unlike our recent short term faxing of requests to Industry Minister Allan Rock, this is not to be considered a short term effort. We should continue this action until we have obtained our goal.

As always, letters to Mr. Radwanski, or anyone else, must be polite and respectful, while still getting our points across.

Canada's 1901 Census Schedules now online

A number of columns back, I made mention that the National Archives of Canada, in conjunction with Heritage Canada, had plans to put scanned images of Canada's 1901 Census online. Unlike the images of England and Wales long delayed online Census schedules for 1901, it had been announced that Canada's images would be available without charge.

It would appear that the National Archives of Canada learned a valuable lesson from the problems that England and Wales have had in getting their online images operational. They have quietly, and without fanfare, placed the images on line. My assumption is they felt that once the images were online, word about them would get around, and that demand for access to them would be gradual, rather than immediate as was the case for the images of England and Wales. In this way they would avoid the problems of demand incurred by England's Public Record Office.

To access the records, click on the link below to go to a National Archives of Canada page. Scan down the left side of the page and click on ArchiviaNet: on-line Research Tool. This will take you to a list of research tools. The sixth one down is 'Census of Canada 1901'. Click on that to take you to From here you can search the database by province and town or area. Before attempting a search it is worthwhile to read some of the information provided to get an idea of how things have been set up.

With my small screen and memory deficient laptop, I have only attempted to read one page. Depending on your system and speed of your internet access, the images can take quite a while to download. Be patient and it will appear. Once it does, it may be resized for best viewing on your monitor.

By the time you read this, I will have returned home from visiting my son and two of my grandchildren in Calgary. I look forward to seeing more of Canada's 1901 Census on my high-speed connection and 17" monitor.

Attacks on information sources

In recent times it has become obvious that, under the guise of protecting individual privacies, many jurisdictions - Federal, Provincial or State - seek to close various sources of information. In the name of personal privacy they would close forever all avenues people have to research their ancestry and family history. This is yet another example of the paranoia exhibited by some of the people running our respective countries.

While not proposing total closure forever, Ontario's proposed legislation, currently being discussed would close many records under provincial control, including BMDs, for a minimum of 150 years.

In the United States, Texas and California have been considered to be leaders in their enlightened attitude regarding access to Birth and Death records. However, that may all be coming to an end with legislation being discussed in California that would close, or render useless information from Birth or Death records. Information on that legislation is contained in two articles below.

This appears to be a trend that genealogists and historians everywhere are going to have to battle.

Stella Stanger, a subscriber to the Canada-Census-Campaign mail list summed it up in a posting. She said:

"One of the ways to control the population - is to control Information. Without Information we are just names or numbers. Having no knowledge of who we are and where we came from makes us more pliable. Almost the same as controlling other essentials of life - food, water, shelter, health care, and education. When these are out of our control - we are subject to the whims of others.

The concern for the Privacy of our ancestors, especially the information found on the majority of the Census forms, seems senseless. This is the same information that would have been freely available to us had we lived at the time that these census were taken. This information would have been part of family discussion. The names of our ancestors - the names of their parents, their birthplaces, names of children, aunties and uncles and the rest are normal family talk, not something that should be hidden from the future generations. We only needed to listen.

But we were not born then, so this information is now hidden from us. Perhaps if our families had been better record keepers, had taken time from working the land, taking on other employment, raising their children and serving their new country in various ways, We Might Not Need to Ask For Our Information. But there wasn't the time. There was a Country to Build. The payment for our ancestors dedication to their newfound Country and Freedom is that they may forever remain a mystery and perhaps forgotten as time goes by. Sad.


The next two articles have to do with what is happening in California.

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter (21 May 2002) and is copyright 2002 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author.

California Senate Bill 1614 Threatens To Close Genealogy Records

California Senate Bill 1614 is a threat to all genealogists. First, it threatens anyone researching California families since this bill, if passed, will reduce access to California records. Secondly, it threatens all genealogists as this could become a precedent, encouraging other states to similarly restrict access to birth and death records.

The passage of California Senate Bill 1614 will close the indexes to both birth and death records. These indexes will then be replaced by a "noncomprehensive index" that can only be viewed at the California Department of Health Services and/or in individual county recorders offices. No indexes would be available online, on CD-ROM or in print in any other place.

The legislative do-gooders have proposed this obnoxious legislation as a method of preventing identity theft. However, neither the California State Department of Health Services nor any of the county clerks have ever found any incidents where present identity thefts could be linked to either the sale of birth or death certificates or to these indexes. In other words, this piece of legislation is being proposed because someone thinks that there might be a future problem, not because of any recognized past or present issue. The impact to genealogists, however, will be felt immediately if this proposed legislation becomes law.

Senate Bill 1614, "Closure of the Birth and Death Records Indexes," passed the California Judiciary Committee on May 7, 2002. It had a rather silly amendment tacked onto it, requiring that people who have already purchased the public domain indexes in the past to now keep the information within the indexes confidential. This retroactive prohibition of previously produced public domain data seems a bit far-fetched to me.

Senate Bill 1614 will next be heard in the Appropriations Committee. If it is passed in the Appropriations Committee, it will then go to the Floor of the Senate for a vote. If it passes there, it will go to the State Assembly. Two rules committees in the Assembly must also hear it. Because of the nature of the bill, it should be referred to the Judiciary and then to the Appropriations Committees, in that order.

You can follow the developments of this bill on the California State Genealogical Alliance Web site at: California residents: please contact your state senators and representatives today to tell them your opinion of this bill. You can find the name and e-mail address of your senator at:

Joint Resolution and Petition from NGS and FGS

Please be aware that the National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies believe strongly that California State Senate Bill 1614 on Vital Records Indexes Poses a significant threat to records access in the state of California. These two national organizations have approved and sent the following joint resolution and petition to the Senate Appropriations Committee in California. We encourage you to contact your California Senator to defeat this bill.

Joint Resolution and Petition from
The Federation of Genealogical Societies
The National Genealogical Society
The Federation of Genealogical Societies with headquarters in Austin, Texas, a national and international organization of societies, representing fifty-five genealogical societies in California and over 50,000 genealogists and family historians in that state, and further representing 550 societies nationwide with approximately one-half million genealogists and family historians being members of those societies, and

The National Genealogical Society with headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, recognized as the leading genealogical society in the United States and North America, having approximately ten percent of its membership in California, do make the following joint resolution and petition to the legislature of the State of California;

Whereas, California State Senate Bill 1614 on Vital Records Indexes threatens to reduce the information available in the birth and death record indexes rendering them significantly less useful and/or limit the use and access by genealogical researchers and family historians, and

Whereas, both organizations consider these records to be primary to the pursuit of discovering an individual's heritage and history; in fact, central to the human need that answers the yearning deep inside each of us to know who we are and from where we came; and

Essential for the youth of our nation to help develop a sense of their cultural heritage and to provide a strong foundation in a world of shifting values; and

For the youth to research their families and learn, for example, how their families overcame hardships in the past which can give them answers to some of the challenges they face today; and that

This curiosity and need crosses cultural and international boundaries, in a way, uniting us as a human family; and

Whereas, both organizations are equally concerned about the issue of identity theft and are fully supportive of state and local leaders acting responsibly to protect the rights and property of the people they are called to serve,

Do petition the California State legislature to find a balanced solution to the matter of protecting the rights of the citizens of the great State of California from identity theft while still providing sufficient access to the records for the continued use by genealogists and family historians for the legitimate pursuit of tracing one's heritage and ancestry.

Further, we believe these two objectives are not mutually exclusive and offer the following for your consideration;

According to the First Amendment Coalition, recent studies confirm that most identity thefts occur through the literal theft by friends, relatives, fellow workers or strangers, of wallets, purses or mail, or fraudulent address changes; and

That many of the county recorders do not have the manpower or funding to facilitate the requirements of SB1614 and that the lack of uniformly implementing the proposed bill would render it ineffective for its intended purpose; and

That we understand the powerful tool that mother's maiden name is in uniquely identifying an individual in a given population; that the intersection of two surnames dramatically improves the statistical probability above chance that two individuals are the same person, thus being an extremely useful tool to genealogists and family historians to identify individuals with common surnames within a given population; and

That this information (particularly mother's maiden name) is readily available in open sources, namely newspapers, especially obituaries, birth and marriage announcements, cemetery tombstones, Who's Who publications, professional directories and published biographies, and

That corporations such as American Express, use individual identifiers other than the mother's maiden name which are not found on the vital records indexes, namely the last four digits of the social security number and that due to the open availability of the identity of the maiden name of a person's mother making it readily available for identity theft, that banks and other financial institutions be encouraged to discontinue the use of the mother's maiden name as a unique identifier, and

That the State of California consider adopting legislation which provides both a level of adequate security and access by genealogists and family historians; and that the legislation from the states of Arizona and/or Kentucky may be used as an appropriate model.

This resolution and petition was adopted by the executives and board of directors of both the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society at the annual meeting of the National Genealogical Society held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, dated 18 May 2002.

Submitted on behalf of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society by:

Dean J. Hunter
Federation of Genealogical Societies

Curt B.Witcher
National Genealogy Society

Send this column to a friend

For those who may not yet have noticed, it is now possible to send this column to a friend. A window below allows you to input an email address to send it to, and allows you to insert a few comments regarding it. Feel free to forward any of my columns to anywhere you feel there may be an interest in it.

Until next time, Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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