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Article Published March 14, 2003

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

Senate Committee Hearings on Bill S-13

The hearings on Bill S-13 by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology took place on Thursday, 27 February 2003. Senator Michael Kirby chaired the meeting. The Committee heard testimony from two panels. The first being comprised of Ian Wilson, National Archivist of Canada; Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada; and Alan Leadbeater, representing John Reid, Information Commissioner. Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski was not present, and was not represented by anyone. The second panel consisted of myself, and Professor Terry Cook.

I must state at the outset that the hearings did not go as well as I had anticipated. It was expected that clause-by-clause deliberation of the Bill would take place immediately following testimony of the witnesses. However, this did not happen because of the indecisiveness of a couple of Committee members, and their desire to hear what Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski had to say about Bill S-13. As a result, clause-by-clause deliberation was put off until after a two-week break which started Friday, 28 February 2003. In the interim, Senator Kirby was to contact the Privacy Commissioner and request, in writing, his comments regarding S-13. The Committee is expected to meet again shortly after the current break is over.

It is my feeling that the Privacy Commissioner, had he any concerns regarding Bill S-13, would have attended the hearings, or appointed someone to appear in his stead. He did neither. He was, and is, most certainly aware of the content of Bill S-13.

In the end run, only two amendments were placed on the table - the first would see the 1911 and 1916 Censuses treated in exactly the same way the 1906 was released -- without restrictions of any kind. The second amendment would change the "informed consent" clause to make it an OPT-OUT, rather than an OPT-IN choice.

Ian Wilson was the first to testify. He was supportive of the Bill in order to get the issue before Parliament for discussion. He stated that it was a compromise. He went through some of the history of Census and noted that with the release of the 1901 and 1906 records, as with the release of earlier records, there had been no complaints. In later questioning he supported access to the 1911 and 1916 records on the same basis as the 1906 was released -- without restrictions of any kind. He would support an OPT-OUT option and felt that S-13 would permit indexing of the records after 92 years.

Ivan Fellegi spoke next. He supports Bill S-13 as presently wording but was not happy with the idea of amendments to it. He opposed treating the 1911 and 1916 records in the same manner as the 1906. He strongly opposes the concept of an OPT-OUT rather than an OPT-IN option for future access. His opinion is that indexing would not be possible prior to 112 years after collection.

Alan Leadbeater, representing Information Commissioner John Reid was the last of this panel to speak. His position was that the compromises in S-13 have serious flaws. He felt that the 1911 and 1916 would be accessible without restriction under existing legislation and saw no reason to impose any restrictions on them now. For access to records of the future he stated "there is no justification for allowing Canadians to throw a blanket of secrecy over census information forever, merely by withholding consent for disclosure after 92 years". The Information Commissioner represents that census records, past and future, be open without restriction 112 years after collection. Second, as indicated in paragraph 4, census records collected after 1918, the date of the first Statistics Act, and for the future, should be open to researchers 92 years after collection, subject to a statutorily defined restriction on disclosure until the 112 years have elapsed.

My own oral presentation briefly summed up recommendations made in my written submission that I included in my last Global Genealogy column. It is accessible at: Other than that it concentrated on sub-section (8), stressing that there should be no "informed consent" option for access to future census, but if we were forced to accept an option it must be an OPT-OUT provision where records for anyone not responding to the option would remain accessible.

The final witness to speak was Professor Terry Cook, representing the Canadian Historical Association and the Association of Canadian Archivists. His testimony supported unrestricted access to the 1911 and 1916 records. It supported unrestricted access as well to records from 1921 to 2001 and suggests removal of all references to the extended 20-year period beyond 92 years. Professor Cook's presentation also objected to "informed consent" for access to future census records and suggested the removal of that clause, or at the least, making it an OPT-OUT option.

Those testifying before the Committee were requested to limit their presentations to about five minutes so as to allow for questioning by Committee members. It is difficult to get any points across with only five minutes and I would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss things further. Such was not to be, however I did manage to speak to a couple of Committee members briefly after the hearings were adjourned.

The full, unrevised testimony given at the Committee hearings has been posted on the Post 1901 Census Project website at:

Submissions to Senate Committee

Since my return home from Ottawa there have been many concerns expressed on the Canada-Census-Campaign mail list regarding the need to amend various sections of Bill S-13. If you have similar concerns, the only way anything will be done about them will be if sufficient people write to the Senate Committee expressing their concerns. It is not enough to say you do not like a particular clause in the Bill. You must state your reason for your concern about any given clause. Make your suggestions as to what could be done to improve the clauses you have concern with.

Bill S-13 can be found by clicking this link

Read the Bill carefully so that you understand what it says, and what your concerns about it are. Then write your letter to the Senate Committee.

Members of the Senate Committee deliberating on Bill S-13 are as follows:
  • Kirby, Michael Chair
  • LeBreton, Marjory Deputy-Chair
  • Callbeck, Catherine S.
  • Cook, Joan
  • Cordy, Jane
  • Di Nino, Consiglio
  • Keon, Wilbert Joseph
  • Kinsella, Noël A.
  • Léger, Viola
  • Milne, Lorna
  • Morin, Yves
  • Roche, Douglas
  • Carstairs, Sharon ( or Robichaud, Fernand ) Ex-officio
  • Lynch-Staunton, John ( or Kinsella, Noel A. ) Ex-officio
Senator Lowell Murray is apparently a member of the Committee as well, even though he is not currently listed as such on the Committee webpage.

Send your letter to the Senate Committee at:
    The Standing Senate Committee on
    Social Affairs, Science and Technology
    The Senate, Ottawa, Ontario
    Canada, K1A 0A4

    Committee Email Address
We have been advised that the Senate Committe will continue it's deliberation of Bill S-13 at 3:30 PM (Ottawa time) Wednesday 26 March 2003.

Because of the short time frame before the Committee reconvenes I would suggest sending your letter by email.

The mailing address for other Senators is:
    Hon. (Name of Senator)
    The Senate of Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 0A4
Until next time. Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

Post 1901 Census Project Web Site:
en français

  • Global Gazette articles regarding Census Project

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