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Article Published June 19, 2003

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

Bringing things up to date

On Wednesday 9 April 2003 the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, following questioning of Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski, and Chief Statistician Ivan P. Fellegi who was once again present, moved to report Bill S-13 back to the Senate without amendment. As the proceedings of this session of the Committee were covered in my last column I will not repeat them here.

Debate of Bill S-13 in the Senate began on Wednesday, 30 April 2003, with Senator Milne moving third reading. In all, there were six sessions of the Senate where Bill S-13 was debated. Extracts from Hansard detailing these debates are available on the Post 1901 Census Project website. Follow the link for information pertaining to Bill S-13.

It is noted that with the exception of Senator Lorna Milne, only those Senators who basically oppose any access to historic Census records spoke on the issue. We cannot help but wonder why those Senators known to support our efforts did not speak to the Bill or propose any of the amendments that we seek. The final session, on 27 May 2003 was simply the calling of the question by Senator Noel Kinsella (Deputy Leader of the Opposition). The motion was agreed to and Bill S-13 was read a third time and passed on division (i.e. - no recorded vote), without amendment.

Bill S-13 was referred to the House of Commons where, on 28 May 2003, it was introduced by Industry Minister Allan Rock and received first reading. Debate on second reading of Bill S-13 appeared on the Projected Order of Business for the House on 3, 4 and 5 June 2003. The debate, however, did not take place because business scheduled before it took longer than expected. The Projected Order of Business for the following week did not include S-13, which might give some indication of the degree of importance with which the government views the Census issue.

The House of Commons adjourned for the summer on Friday, 13 June 2003. It did so without having considered or debated second reading of Bill S-13, or referring it to Committee. We have mixed feelings that Bill S-13 was not considered before the rising of the House. On the one hand, we look forward to the successful conclusion of our efforts of the past six years. On the other hand, we are not happy with the conditions and restrictions imposed on access by Bill S-13, and we did not want to see Bill S-13 pushed through at the last minute. We wish to see a thorough debate of the issues and, in particular, the amendments to the Bill that we seek. That would have been unlikely to happen had S-13 been considered before adjournment of the House.

Parliament is scheduled to resume at 11:00 AM, Monday 15 September 2003. This gives us all time to again contact our parliamentary representatives to convince them of the need for the amendments we seek. As a reminder the amendments sought, in order of importance, are:
  • Removal of Clause 8 - the supposed "informed consent" clause. This clause, if retained, will destroy forever any possibility of future Census being used for any meaningful scientific, demographic or historical research, and will prevent many future genealogists from being able to research their ancestry. It was originally thought that, barring total removal of Clause 8, it would be sufficient to make it an OPT-OUT provision rather than OPT-IN. Such a provision would ensure that only those who have given conscious thought to the issue and specifically object to access of their information 92 years in the future would be excluded from the records. We now tend to agree with Information Commissioner John Reid where he states in a letter to the Senate Committee deliberating Bill S-13:

      "….. If the proposed consent provision is the price [to] pay for opening past census records to research use, then it is too high a price to pay. The historical database represented by census responses constitutes a developing, growing database of vital interest to the nation. It would be unprecedented and unacceptable to degrade its usefulness to future generations by the inevitable incompleteness that would result if even a small percentage of Canadians withhold consent.

      The fact that it is a legal obligation to complete the census is testimony to the importance of this database. If Canadians have no choice when it comes to the completion of census forms, they should have no ability to choose, by withholding consent, to impair forever, legitimate public use of future census data. I cannot accept that all census records predating 2006 will be open in the future, but not subsequent census dates.

      I therefore urge your committee to reject the consent provision for post-2006 census records……..

  • Removal of all restrictions or conditions for access for at least the 1911 and 1916 Records of Census. The 1911 and 1916 Censuses were conducted under the same legislation and similar Instructions to Enumerators, as was the 1906 Census, the records of which have been released without restrictions of any kind, and have been placed online for the World to view. There is no reason - legal, moral or logical, for records of the 1911 and 1916 Censuses to be treated any differently than the 1906 records have been.

  • Removal of the "twenty-year" period during which only partial disclosure of information found in Census records might be made by a researcher, and the need to commit to an "undertaking" regarding this partial disclosure. Need for these conditions have not been demonstrated. They contribute nothing to the privacy of respondents to Census. They do not prevent information from being known. They create a costly, bureaucratic procedure that in the end run will simply be an inconvenience for those that would share information through their family history.
As stated before, we do not oppose Bill S-13 as a whole, but we most certainly oppose the unwarranted conditions it imposes on the access to Historic Census records that we believe is already permitted, without restrictions, under the Privacy Act and Regulations attached thereto.

Seeking access to 1911 Census Records

The date of the National Census of Canada for 1911 was effective the first day of June. The Privacy Act and Regulations attached thereto specify that records of Census may be made available to any person or body for purposes of research, 92 years after collection. Therefore, records of the 1911 National Census of Canada should have been accessible to the public after 1 June 2003. This has not yet happened and at this time it does not look like it will anytime soon.

We strongly urge everyone interested in accessing these records to submit an Access to Information request to Statistics Canada. We believe that submitting ATI requests for the 1911 Census records will be a very powerful, meaningful way of sending a message to the government. The greater the number of requests made, the stronger the message.

Under current legislation, only those people resident in Canada are eligible to make a request under ATI. An Access to Information request may be made simply by writing a letter however there is a form that is downloadable from this link.

In filling out the ATI request form, the 'Federal Government Institution' is 'Statistics Canada'.

Keep the 'details regarding the information being sought' in general terms, seeking access to schedules of the 1911 National Census of Canada. Do not seek access to information for specific individuals in the Census records. If you ask for information on anyone specific you are likely to be referred to a service regarding a 'Census Pensions Search'. This service is not what we seek at this time. Besides, it costs $45.00 plus GST for each search done. The following is the wording used on my own ATI request. Feel free to use this wording, or paraphrase it as you wish.
    '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 provide 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 1911 National Census of Canada. Thank you.'
Do not bother completing either 'method of access preferred'. There is every expectation that each request made will be denied so to choose one of these would serve no purpose. The rest of the form is self-explanatory - simply your personal information including address etc., your signature and the date.

There is a $5.00 charge for making a request under Access to Information. Enclose a check made out to the Receiver General of Canada with your request. Statistics Canada is required to respond within 30 days of receipt of an ATI request. It is expected that all requests made for the 1911 Census records will be refused. Based on past performance, Statistics Canada will not refund the $5.00 payment if the request is refused. Mail your request to:
    Pamela White, ATIP Coordinator
    Statistics Canada
    R.H. Coats Bldg., 25th floor
    Tunney's Pasture
    Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0T6
On being advised of the refusal of your request the next step will be to submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner. This must be done. We believe he will be prepared, as he was prepared to do for the 1906 Census, to proceed himself to the Courts on behalf of complainants. Complaints to the Information Commissioner should detail when your request was made, specifically what was requested, and the date of refusal. Quote any file number included in the notice from Statistics Canada. There is no charge for submitting such a complaint. Mail your complaint to:
    Mr. John Reid
    Information Commissioner of Canada
    Place de Ville, Tower B
    112 Kent Street, 22nd Floor
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 1H3
It would be appreciated if you would send me copies of your ATI request, response received from Statistics Canada, and your complaint to the Information Commissioner. If you prefer, you may wait until submitting your complaint to the Information Commissioner before sending copies of all documents, thus saving postage. My address is
    Gordon A. Watts
    1455 Delia Drive
    Port Coquitlam, BC
    V3C 2V9

A new legal action

Our legal action to obtain access to the 1906 Census records came to an end with the release of those records, and the placing of them online, on 24 January 2003. It is our belief that our legal action, on behalf of eleven plaintiffs, was mainly responsible for the release of these records at this time. It is our view that, even though we did not get to a hearing before the Court, we won our case. With the Court awarding costs to our lawyer, Lois Sparling, the belief that we won has been strengthened. All those who contributed one hundred dollars or more to our legal fund have received a full refund.

We now have a second legal Action under way. The Action this time is to obtain release of schedules for the 1911 National Census of Canada. On the afternoon of 5 June 2003 Lois Sparling filed the Action with the Federal Court. It was filed on behalf of a sole applicant, Merle Beatty, who was one of the applicants in the original Action. The Attorney General, Chief Statistician Ivan P. Fellegi and National Archivist Ian Wilson are named as respondents.

About an hour after filing the Action with the Federal Court, Lois received a call from Justice Canada asking about the Action. They had been advised about the Action by the Federal Court. Justice asked for a 10 to 15 day extension of time to file a Response. Lois does not expect to grant any further extensions, and by foregoing any cross-examination of witnesses' hopes to be in a position to requisition a hearing date by August. It is my understanding that the same lawyers from Justice that were involved with our first Action have been assigned to this one.

Lois hopes that a hearing might be scheduled before Christmas. Presumably by that time the Information Commissioner might be in a position to act on our complaints regarding Statistics Canada expected refusal of our ATI requests. We anticipate that he may consider joining with us in our Action, or will be prepared to proceed with his own Action on behalf of our complainants.

Only two things could prevent our Action from proceeding. One would be the release of the 1911 National Census of Canada. The other would be the passage of Bill S-13. Either way we expect that the 1911 records should be made available near, or shortly after, the end of the year 2003.

Summer is here

Once again this yearly phenomenon has arrived. People are preparing to take their vacation trips, or perhaps planning on just taking it easy around home. Parliament has recessed for the summer and our Members of Parliament will be spending time in their constituencies and their constituency offices. This is a good time to contact our MPs to see just how knowledgeable they are regarding Bill S-13, and our desires regarding necessary amendments to it.

Even though we have sent numerous messages to the MPs, from some of the responses we see we wonder if some of them really have any idea of what the Census issue is all about. My thanks to Brian Gilchrists for suggesting a way to perhaps ensure that our MPs have at least read Bill S-13 and might have a working knowledge of it. Brian suggests that we should ask our MPs to provide us a copy of Bill S-13 with the hope that in so doing they are likely to read what it is that we ask they send us.

There are two possible ways of doing this - one is to request to pick up a copy of the Bill at their constituency office at a time at which you might discuss the Bill with them. The other way is to simply ask them to send us a copy of the Bill. Brian provides possible wording of messages to your MP to accomplish this"
    "Dear Member:
    As one of your Constituents I wish to obtain a copy of Bill S-13, currently before the House of Commons. I would like to pick up a copy of this Bill at your constituency office. Would you be so kind as to have your assistant contact me to arrange a mutually convenient time that we might meet and discuss this Bill? My home telephone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. Thank you. (Josephine / Joe Smith)"
    Dear Member:
    As one of your Constituents I am in need of a copy of the Bill S-13, currently before the House of Commons. Will you kindly have one of your assistants arrange for a copy to be sent to me as soon as possible? Thank you. (Josephine / Joe Smith)"
Don't forget to include your mailing address.

On behalf of the Canada Census Committee I wish for all a very happy, and safe summer. If you travel on vacation please take care and return home safely. We look forward to your participation in our efforts re: Census access on your return.

You are invited to join the Canada Census Campaign mail list by sending an e-mail to with ONLY the word SUBSCRIBE in the subject line and body of the text. If you prefer to receive list mail in Digest mode, change the L in the address to a D.

At the bottom of this page is a box from which you might send this column to others. Feel free to use it - your MP might appreciate receiving this column.

Until next time. Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

Post 1901 Census Project Web Site:
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