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Article Published September 27, 2002

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

An anniversary

This column marks an anniversary of sorts for me. It is the fiftieth column I have written since Rick Roberts asked if I would be interested in writing a column to report happenings related to our efforts to regain public access to Post 1901 Census Records. It was not something that I was sure that I wanted to take on. I felt that I could write a reasonably intelligent letter but did not (and still do not) consider myself to be a journalist capable of writing a regular column. Rick convinced me to give it a try and I agreed on the understanding that if it did not work out we would forget the whole idea. The rest, as they say, "is history".

My first online column was published 21 May 1999, now more than three years ago. It was short and sweet - listing four MPs who had indicated their support for the access we seek, and two who had voiced opposition. My second column, published 11 June 1999, first announced the drafting of petitions to the House of Commons that could be downloaded from the Post 1901 Census Project website.

I will not detail here all of my following columns. For those interested in recounting the ups and downs of our efforts, all of my columns are available through the Post 1901 Census Project website .

Speaking too soon

In my last column I made reference to Prime Minister Jean Chretien's announcement that he would not seek re-election for another term. With his comment that he would spend the next 18 months tending to the business of government it was felt that we could expect some stability in government and that we would not likely be facing a snap election that would interrupt our Census campaign and require us to start over once again with another new government.

It would appear that I spoke too soon. We have seen no evidence of an election in the offing, however.............

Parliament was expected to resume sitting on 30 September 2002. However on 17 September 2002 a Proclamation was received from the Honourable Louise Arbour, Deputy of Her Excellency the Governor General, that, by and with the advice of the Prime Minister, the Deputy has thought fit to prorogue the present Parliament of Canada to 30 September 2002. A further Proclamation was received to summon Parliament to meet on Monday, 30 September 2002 at two o'clock in the afternoon, for the dispatch of business.

You might ask what effect this will have on our efforts to regain public access to Historic Census records?

The effect is that all unfinished business from the prorogued Session will cease to exist. All Bills and Motions - government or private members - that have not been fully processed and completed, end up in the dumper.

This includes Bill S-12, Senator Lorna Milne's Bill on access to Census, that we expected to achieve third reading in the Senate shortly after Parliament resumed sitting after the summer recess.

It is expected that both Senator Milne, and MP Murray Calder will re-introduce their respective Bills in the Senate and the House of Commons. This would be a second chance for Murray Calder's Bill which was deemed non-votable and received only one hour of debate in the House before being dropped from the Order Paper. However both Bills would be starting from square one, having to go through first reading and all other steps that they had been subjected to previously. It means that the Bills, when presented, will have new numbers. It means more time and further delays before we achieve what we seek.

This would be the third time that our Bills have had to start from scratch. With a new start we must renew our efforts to gain the support of those elected and appointed representatives who have not responded to our questions. We urge all to check the position of their own elected and appointed representatives on the MP and Senator Scoreboards on the Post 1901 Census Project website . Send letters to them, either thanking them for the support they have already expressed, or seeking support from those who have not given a definitive answer to our questions (i.e. fence-sitters or no response). If you have, or receive, a response that differs from the position shown on the Scoreboard for your representative, please forward a copy to me so that I might update the Scoreboards.

We must also renew our efforts in collecting signatures on petitions. Not having had an election with a new government, we are not starting over again on petitions but we need to continue with efforts to obtain new signatures. So far we have sent more than 55,000 signatures to Ottawa, however with a population of Canada in excess of 32 million, there remains a great many people interested in genealogy and history that have not yet signed a petition. I am currently holding approximately 2000 signatures for the House of Commons and Muriel Davidson is holding a similar number for the Senate. We will be submitting these as soon as we know for sure that the current Session of Parliament has been prorogued and a new Session started.

Some may question the effectiveness of our petitions and the need to continue collecting signatures, saying that having already sent more than 55,000 signatures, adding to these numbers will have little additional effect. The fact of the matter is, however, that numbers of signatures on petitions is the only tangible, visible, evidence we have to show that genealogists and historians seek to regain public access to Post 1901 Census records. Presentation of petitions in the House of Commons and the Senate, showing the numbers of signatures received, is permanently recorded in Hansard, showing for all time that we seek these vital records.

Letters and email to MPs, Senators and other officials are very necessary. They may, in fact, outnumber the number of signatures on petitions. However, we do not have any means of knowing the numbers of letters and email sent and so cannot point to them, as we can with petitions, as proof of our desire for access.

Do not give up hope. We may have hit another snag in our efforts to regain public access to Post 1901 Census records. There is no question, however, that with the help of all we will achieve that goal. It will just take a little longer to do so.

The legal case

Our legal case is progressing more or less as expected, although we have modified our Application slightly. Our original Application sought only to have the Court make an Order "compelling the Chief Statistician to transfer the nominal returns and schedules of the 1906 Census of the Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to the National Archivist, and, further and in the alternative, for an Order directing, or alternatively permitting, the National Archivist to make this information available to the public for research purposes".

The modification to our Application seeks further, and in the alternative, Declarations:

1. that the National Archivist, and not the Chief Statistician, has care and control of the records from the 1906 Census;

2. in the alternative, if, contrary to the Applicants submission, the Chief Statistician does have care and control of the records from the 1906 Census, then Chief Statistician is under a legal obligation to transfer control of these records to the National Archivist;

3. further, upon being declared to be in care or control of the records from the 1906 Census or upon being transferred control of such records, the National Archivist has the power to disclose this information to member of the public upon request for research purposes.

In order to amend our Application to include a request for Declaratory Relief and to extend the time limit for us to file our Applicants' Record we required the agreement of parties on the other side. The lawyer for the Privacy Commissioner consented right away. The Justice Department, on behalf of the Attorney General, National Archivist and Chief Statistician took longer to state they "do not oppose" our application. Not opposing the application is not quite the same as consenting to it. The Prothonotary (don't ask - that is the term Lois used) will now consider our written application and presumably grant it promptly since it is unopposed.

As of 12 September our Applicants' Record was ready to go except for the copying and binding. The key part of our Record is the written argument. The Respondents then have to file their Respondent's Record with their written argument. Lois will then requisition a Hearing. If there are no more unexpected delays, she hopes the hearing will be before Christmas. This will not be like a trial since all the evidence is in the Affidavits. There will be no witnesses. Lawyers will present oral argument and be quizzed by the Federal Court Judge. This will take place in Calgary and be open to the public. The Federal Court rooms in Calgary are not all that big and crowds cannot be accommodated. Legal arguments are not terribly interesting to non-lawyers, however, other circumstances being considered, I have hopes that I will be able to be in Calgary to observe the proceedings.

2001 - the Year of the Volunteer

Many will be aware that the year 2001 was designated as a worldwide "Year of the Volunteer". Few are aware, however, that your co-chairs of the Canada Census Committee, Muriel M. Davidson and myself, were honoured, through the sponsorship of Senator Lorna Milne, to receive a beautiful Certificate and a pewter Medal that commemorated our volunteer efforts related to the Canada Census campaign.

Each Member of Parliament, and each Senator of Canada were given ten of these Certificates bound in an imitation leather folder (Green for the House of Commons and Red for the Senate) to distribute to those they felt had contributed significantly in various areas of volunteerism. Approximately 4,000 Medals, having the same "Year of the Volunteer" logo shown on the reverse side of Canada's 2001 dime, were struck by Canada's Mint. They will never be struck again. Considering that Canada's population is more than 32 million people, to be one of approximately 4,000 being recognized by presentation of these Certificates and Medals is an extraordinary, and probably once in a lifetime, honour.

My Certificate and Medal were presented to me by Member of Parliament Hedy Fry in December 2001 at a ceremony she held for presentations to those volunteers she was honouring. The Certificate reads:
Presented to
Gordon Watts
in this Year of the Volunteer
for his dedication to the cause of
Public Access
to the
Historic Census of Canada
And for his hours of work in that cause as
Co-Chair of the
Canada Census Campaign

Presented on behalf of
The Honourable Lorna Milne, Senator
December, 2001

Muriel Davidson was aware earlier that she would receive her Certificate and Medal, however Susan Fennell, Mayor of the city of Brampton, Ontario, did not officially present it to her until March of 2002. Muriel received her award during opening ceremonies for a ward of the Brampton Memorial Hospital where she has also been a volunteer. Muriel's Certificate included a list of many other volunteer activities with which she has been involved over the years.

To see vivid images of the certificates click here

Canadian Genealogy Centre symposium

On Friday 13 September 2002 I received a letter from Ian E. Wilson - National Archivist of Canada, inviting me to attend the first symposium of the Canadian Genealogy Centre entitled "Canadian Genealogy Online: Building an Innovative Model of Co-operation" to be held in Gatineau, Quebec, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on November 1, 2 and 3, 2002. The letter of invitation stated:
    "The National Archives of Canada, with the National Library of Canada, is developing the Canadian Genealogy Centre in order to better serve Canadian genealogists. With the assistance of Canadian Heritage and other partners from archives, libraries, and genealogical and historical societies, this new Centre will also offer genealogical content, services, advice, research tools and the opportunity to work online on group projects, in both official languages.

    We hope to foster dialogue between genealogists, and current and potential partners in order to gain a better understanding of their needs and expectations."
The symposium will consist of a number of plenary sessions and group discussions as follows:

Session 1: Relationships between users and stakeholders providing genealogical services.
    1. Which consultation strategies and methods should the CGC adopt?
    2. What are the needs of the users and service providers? What genealogical products and services do users and providers wish to have access to through the CCG?
    3. What projects should be set as priorities in developing online CGC components and what partnership projects would be required to achieve them?
Session 2: Partnerships at the Canadian Genealogy Centre.
    1. What are the challenges (responsibilities, commitments, advantages) of participating in the CGC as a partner? What do we mean by the term governance? What governance model would be most effective for the Centre under the leadership of the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada?
    2. What services should the CGC provide and what balance should there be between free services and billed services? What role could the private sector play in all of the CGC's activities? What ethical issues could the CGC raise?
    3. What would the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders be in implementing the CGC in terms of access to information, protection of personal information, and security with regard to developing Web tools?
Session 3: Approaches for the Canadian Genealogy Centre and stakeholders with respect to the production and sharing of content.
    1. What projects could partners carry out together? (e.g. indexing, research tools and genealogical resource directory.)
    2. What's new in the exchange of genealogical information? (e.g. online collaborative tools such as Meeting Place and volunteer mobilization efforts.)
    3. What protocols would have to be put in place for quality control of the content?
Some meals are provided, and a closing banquet will be given in conjunction with a guided tour of the National Archives of Canada's Gatineau Preservation Centre. Cost of transportation and accommodation, however, is the responsibility of those attending. I suspect some attendees will have assistance from some of the genealogical and historical societies they represent. Others who have been invited may be unable to attend because of the costs involved.

Thanks to having collected Air Miles for the past several years I have managed to arrange to attend this symposium. I am advised that Ian Holmes, President of the Alberta Genealogical Society, George Lake, chairman of the Alberta Family History Society, and Rick Roberts of Global Genealogy will be attending the symposium. I look forward meeting them. I have not heard from any others that might be attending.

Victory in Australia

Genealogists and historians in Australia have for some time been fighting a battle similar to our own. Up to 2001 all Australian records of Census have been destroyed immediately after statistical compilation. In the year 2001, for the first time since 1828, records of Census for respondents that answered "Yes" to a question on the Census form have been microfilmed and placed in a 'time capsule' to be opened after 99 years.

Overall, there was a 52.7 % "Yes" response (just under ten million) with 31.9 % responding 'No'. 15.4 % left the question unanswered. This was less than the 60 - 80 % 'Yes' response expected, but was an encouraging first time around.

The battle in Australia is not over. The 'time capsule' and retention of records for 2001 was a one-time thing. Decisions have not yet been made on the retention and eventual disclosure of future Censuses and the lobbying there will continue.

The driving force in Australia's lobby to retain schedules of Census for eventual disclosure has been the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations. The AFFHO has a member-ship of 100,000. Nick VINE HALL is the Chairman of their Census Working Party and the Media Spokesman on Record Preservation and Access. The following was sent by Nick VINE HALL.

Major Victory for the AFFHO Census Lobby after 20 year struggle.

Official handover of the last roll of microfilm of the 2001 Australian Census for safekeeping in the National Archives in Canberra earlier this week (24 September 2002). L-R: Nick VINE HALL, Chairman AFFHO Census Working Party; Dennis TREWIN, Australian Statistician; Anne-Marie SCHWIRTLICH, Acting Director General, National Archives; Stephen MUTCH, Member, AFFHO Census Working Party & Former Federal member for Cook.

Outstanding letters

With our request to be copied on letters to MPs and Senators, and any responses from them, we occasionally see a letter that stands out from most of those received. The following, sent by Bruce McDonald to a number of MPs, is such a letter. Our thanks to Bruce for his support.

    I truly hope you will vote "yes" on the release of the 1901 Canadian Census... and future census at the appropriate time of release. I believe that after 90+ years the "need to know" far exceeds the need of privacy.

    Each of us make up part of Canadian history. My family forefathers and mothers are just as important to Canadian History as was Raddison and Grosellier, Wilfrid Laurier, The North West Mounted Police, Percy Williams, to name just a few. Through research I found an ancestor who was a signee of the Ontario Fathers of Confederation, Thomas Swinarton. That makes me an even more proud Canadian because one of my relatives helped make Canadian history. Through other research I found another relative was a cooper, and yet another a band master. On my wife's side, we found cousins married to each other, and a sibling with the same first name as his older brother who had died.

    Through records we found a mother and daughter with the same first name, came to Canada, married an uncle and nephew, both with the same names. When the nephew died she remarried and started a new family but was buried with the first family husband.

    These searches all started with census records.

    We are still searching to locate when my great great grandfather was married and to whom. He was married twice and newspaper records indicate he had twelve children. We are aware of only six. I have relatives out there I know nothing about! Not releasing census records denies me the right of trying to know my own family.

    Not only is our Canadian heritage important to each and every one of us, so is our health. Many health problems and causes of death are hereditary. Knowing the ages and causes of death, diseases and ailment suffered by previous generations, can help future generations. Had I known my paternal ancestors died relatively young due to heart conditions, I could have had the choice to take some positive action that may have prevented my heart attacks and by-pass and other heart surgery... at considerable cost to the public health plan.

    More adopted persons are learning of their natural family, and then through searching ancestral records learn of hereditary health matters that can be addressed early, if not eradicated.

    These are just two of a myriad of reasons to vote "Yes".

    Without tools to trace our families, we would be only half a family. I believe we all are entitled to know our ancestors (good and bad ones alike), to learn who we were and who we have become. To know my past is to know me and I do not believe any government has the right to deny me the opportunity to know who I am.

    Census is made available for commercial purposes... for financial gain, yet I am denied knowledge of my family? If the law needs changing, change the law. Do not deny us knowledge.

    I urge you to press for a changes in the legislation which will require Statistics Canada to deposit ALL census records with the National Archives. This must includes the 1906 and each census taken since that date.

    I truly hope you and your colleagues will vote YES on this very vital question. A YES vote to the release of the 1906 and all future Canadian Censuses.

    Respectfully submitted
Not all letters to MPs, Senators and other officials need be as detailed as this. The important thing is that letters are sent to advise that we wish to regain the public access to Post 1901 Census Records we are currently denied and that we seek their support to do so. Emphasis should be placed on the fact that we wish this access 92 years after collection, on the same basis that we currently have for records up to and including 1901. Advise that the so-called "compromise solution" being pushed by Statistics Canada is not an acceptable option.

Access to Information requests

We continue to request those interested in regaining public access to Historic Census Records to submit Access to Information requests for access to the 1906 Census of the Western Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) to Statistics Canada. It is felt that similar requests to the National Archivists have served their purpose and that they no longer need to be submitted.

An essential part of this strategy is to follow up on Statistics Canada's refusal of these requests with a complaint to the Information Commissioner. Do not forget to include a complaint on their refusal to return the $5.00 application fee.

Further information regarding this can be found in my earlier columns at

Until next time. Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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