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Article Published Dec 06, 2003

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

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament

As anyone who has ever been on a diet will tell you, when first starting you seem to lose weight quickly and then you hit a 'plateau' where it seems you cannot lose any more regardless of how strictly you stick to the diet. Then comes a period where you lose once again until you hit another 'plateau'.

Insofar as my writing about the Census issue is concerned, for the past while I have been on a plateau similar to what dieters' experience. It has not been for a lack of things to write about that it has been so long since my last column. A number of things have contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for writing, not the least of which have been some family considerations and some minor medical problems which are now, hopefully, behind me. I will try to bring you up to date with happenings since my last column.

AFHS library opens

The grand re-opening of the Alberta Family History Society Library in Calgary took place on 6 September 2003. I had been contacted some time earlier by AFHS President George Lake and asked if it would be possible for me to attend this event, as well as the monthly meeting of the AFHS on 8 September. As it gave me an excuse to visit my son and two of my granddaughters who live in Calgary, I agreed to be present.

The opening of the library was well attended. Coffee and doughnuts were served, and at the allotted time Senator Lorna Milne, who had been invited to officiate, cut a ribbon across the door leading to the library. The library, in the basement of a genealogical book store (the name of which I unfortunately do not remember) was well lit, had many books lining the shelves around the walls, and had sufficient room for small meetings to be held.

AFHS President George Lake and Senator Lorna Milne
cutting the ribbon to open the new AFHS library

The highlight of the opening for my granddaughters Brittni and Dana, who attended along with my son Bruce, was having their picture taken with Senator Milne.

Dana Nicole Watts - Senator Lorna Milne - Brittni Taylor Watts

Those wishing to visit the AFHS Library may do so at 712 - 16 Avenue NW, Calgary, AB T2M 0J8.

AFHS meeting

As indicated above, I had been invited to attend the monthly meeting of the AFHS. Senator Milne, who also has family in Calgary, was to be the keystone speaker of the evening and I looked forward to seeing her once again.

When she spoke, Senator Milne indicated that she felt Bill S-13 was a 'good' Bill in respect that it would 'forever' ensure Historic Census records would be transferred to the care and control of the National Archivist. It would also make clear that the purpose of that transfer was to make the records accessible by genealogists and historians, 92 years after collection, and to anyone after 112 years. It was her feeling that should S-13 be passed, even as currently worded, genealogists and historians would never again have to go through the battle we have gone through for the past six plus years in order to obtain public access to Census records. She indicated she was aware that with the conditions and restrictions it contained many would not agree that S-13 was a 'good' Bill.

Senator Milne did not disagree with the amendments that we seek. What she had to say about them, however, was that should such amendments pass in the House of Commons, the Bill would have to once more proceed through the Senate. She did not believe there was sufficient support in the Senate to see the amendments pass, and if that were the case, Bill S-13 would be defeated. Regarding the 'informed consent' clause, she indicated that it was only through the inclusion of that clause that Cabinet agreed to have the Bill presented. She indicated that Industry Minister Allan Rock had gone to Cabinet at least twice to have the 'informed consent' clause removed, and was refused each time.

Should S-13 see debate in the House of Commons she was aware that some MPs were expected to move amendments to it. She expressed doubt that S-13 would be debated during the Fall Session as she felt there were other issues upon which the government placed higher priorities, and which they wanted to see passed before Jean Chretien stepped down as Prime Minister. She ventured the opinion that with a new Prime Minister there might, in fact, be a Federal Election called before S-13 was considered in the House. (This has since been proven incorrect as S-13 has, in fact, been debated in the House - more about that later)

Senator Milne supported our current legal action to obtain access to the 1911 Census records and encouraged Lois Sparling and Mertie Beattie to continue with it.

After the normal business of the meeting was finished it became clear why I had been asked to attend this meeting. President George Lake made a short speech in which he honoured Senator Milne, Lois Sparling and myself for our efforts in promoting public access to Historic Census records. Each of us was presented with a Certificate naming us as Honourary Members of the Alberta Family History Society. Muriel M. Davidson, my Co-chair on the Canada Census Committee, subsequently received similar recognition with her Honourary Membership in the AFHS being sent to her shortly after the AFHS meeting.

Gordon A. Watts, Lois Sparling and Senator Lorna Milne
receive Honourary Memberships in AFHS

I have asked President George Lake to pass my personal thanks for this honour on to the membership of the AFHS. On behalf of myself and the others I take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the honour bestowed upon us by the AFHS, and to thank them for it. None of us are involved in the Census campaign for personal recognition. It is always nice, however, to receive a pat on the back, and an occasional 'attaboy'.

Bill S-13 debated in House of Commons

Contrary to expectations, Bill S-13 did receive Second Reading debate in the House of Commons. The motion under debate was that "Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee". Debate took place in two segments - the first on 20 October 2003 and the second on Thursday, 6 November 2003.

Serge Marcil (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, Lib) opened debate in the first period on 20 October. Mr. Marcil is currently shown on our MPs Scoreboard with a blue question mark, indicating that we have never received, or been forwarded any response from him to our questions regarding support for access to Historic Census records.

Mr. Marcil explained the various sections of the Bill from the perspective of the government and asked Members to support it. Unfortunately, he appeared to be better at giving his prepared explanation of the government position than in responding to questions about the Bill. Responding to questions from other Members he gave a number of incorrect and misleading answers - mostly in reference to the effect of the 'informed consent' clause. On more than one occasion he gave an answer that indicated for Censuses from 2006 those not giving consent for release would have their records withheld only until 112 years had elapsed - not in perpetuity, as is the case.

Responding to a question from Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP) relating to the recently announced contract for outsourcing of Census collection to Lockheed Martin, Mr. Marcil made the following two statements - neither of which is correct:
    "If Canadians mistrust Statistics Canada or the company that might be conducting the census, they could simply sign a document indicating that they do not want this personal information to be disclosed until 112 years later."

    "We are telling people that nothing can be released before 112 years. To have information released after 92 years, consent will be required. It will be possible for individuals to consent to the release of tombstone information, such as name, sex, origin, occupation, after 92 years."
In response to a question by Larry Bagnall (Yukon, Lib.) Mr. Marcil stated, again incorrectly:
    "Bill S-13 does, in fact, protect private information. If a person does not want private information released, as of the 2006 census, that person need only sign a form stating that this information is private and cannot be released until 112 years have passed."
In actual fact, under the terms of Bill S-13 there is no 112-year provision relating to Census from 2006. Anyone giving consent would allow their information to be released after 92 years. Records for those withholding consent would never be released.

Grant McNally (Dewdney-Alouette, CA) gave the Canadian Alliance position regarding Bill S-13. In my view Mr. McNally has a better grasp of S-13 than does Mr. Marcil. He questioned the necessity for questions in Census that the government feels need protecting, and why there is need for only partial 'release' of information. He named those people listed in draft regulations presented to Cabinet who could approve historical research. He stated the list of those people should be included in the Bill. He questioned the qualifications of some of those listed, in particular Members of Parliament.

Mr. McNally asked many questions that made it obvious that he, and the Canadian Alliance, had listened to the concerns expressed by the people regarding this Bill. He indicated that the section of S-13 that he and the CA had received the most correspondence about was the 'informed consent' clause. He indicated the CA believes 92 years to be a sufficient period of closure before public access was allowed. He stated that he and the CA could not support S-13 in its current form and they would be proposing amendments to the Bill.

Paul Crete (Kamouraska-Riviere-du-Loup-Temiscouata-Les Basques, BQ) spoke to the Bill from the perspective of the Bloc Quebecois. He stated that the Bloc does not feel Census information should be subject to perpetual confidentiality, and that "historical and scientific repercussions are more important than protecting the privacy of the dead". At the same time he appeared to support the "informed consent" clause that from 2006 would in fact cause a great deal of information from Census to be forever unavailable. He indicated that 92 years before release was a "worthwhile timeframe". He indicated the Bloc felt 92 years was a sufficient period of closure, but made other statements supporting the 112-year provision in the interest of 'privacy'. He stated that "members of genealogical and historical associations in every riding that we represent will be very pleased to see this bill passed so that the information can be utilized". He has obviously not been listening to our objections to the conditions and restrictions that S-13 would impose on access. In the end run he indicated the Bloc Quebecois would vote for S-13, without having made mention of any possible amendments.

Gerald Keddy (South Shore, PC) started his speech by stating there "is a need to open up the census information" and suggested "we do not have the right to protect information in perpetuity". He stated, "some information given to the census may be sensitive, but I fail to see any rational argument that after 92 years information cannot be released". He stated, "We cannot somehow close the door and not allow people to find information about their own family members".

Mr. Keddy was generally supportive of access in his speech. Unfortunately, he spoiled it in his closing statement - "This is a good bill. It has been supported by historical and genealogical societies across the country. They have lobbied Parliament hard to have this piece of legislation passed. I agree with it totally and have no difficulty at all supporting it".

Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP) gave one of the shortest speeches because of time constrictions and when debate closed for the day he had 15 minutes owing him when debate continued. In his speech, as in some questions asked of other Members who spoke, he seemed fixated more on the controversial outsourcing of future Census collection to Lockheed Martin, than on the clauses of Bill S-13.

Other Members who asked questions of those giving the major speeches were Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib), Peter Adams (Peterborough, Lib) and Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib).

The full extracted Hansard transcript of this round of debate on Bill S-13 can be viewed at

The second session of debate on Bill S-13 was held Thursday, 6 November 2003.

James Rajotte (Edmonton Southwest, CA) opened debate by stating that many MPs had received "hundreds and thousands of e-mails and letters regarding the bill". He stated it was a very important bill to a great number of people. He indicated the government had "originally proposed that the bill be passed in a single sitting" but that the Canadian Alliance did not agree because of "serious concerns that need to be addressed".

He questioned the conditional release of information, the creation of a new bureaucracy and new regulations to police the conditional release of information, and the appropriate passage of time before census information should be released to the public. He repeated the CA position that 92 years of secrecy is a sufficient and reasonable time period to protect the integrity of census records. He reiterated that the CA would be proposing amendments to the bill.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ) spoke about "limited publication" and "full publication". She stated that census records were of inestimable importance to understanding our past. She spoke of her own family. She spoke of the high incidence of cystic fibrosis in her area and the importance of being able to retrace lineages through statistics to find solutions to these problems and deal with such diseases. She was supportive of access but made no mention of amendments. She finished by stating, "The Bloc Quebecois will gladly vote in favour of this bill".

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.) repeated much of government position as stated by Serge Marcil in the first session of debate. She stated that "Canadians should be allowed to decide whether others can have access to their census information", thus supporting the 'informed consent' clause. She claimed that Bill S-13 "has achieved the right balance between access to census records for historical and genealogical research and the protection of the privacy of Canadians", and urged all members of the House to support the bill and "finally put this issue to rest".

André Bachand (Richmond-Arthabaska, PC) incorrectly stated that there "is really nothing new in Bill S-13". He was mistaken in his statement regarding 'informed consent' that "If a document was signed, requesting that the information not be disclosed, the period is 112 years. In the absence of such a document the period is 92 years". He expressed concern regarding future questions in Census that might be considered a problem. He summed up by stating that Bill S-13 is a step in the right direction for some, and a huge question mark for others.

Ms. Wendy Lill (Dartmouth, NDP) mentioned that there had been non-partisan support on the Census issue. She stated the NDP supported the work of the Expert Panel that recommended the transfer of census information to the National Archives after 92 years. She quoted a part of my own submission to the Expert Panel. She noted the difference between a number of surveys and programs where information covers limited numbers of individuals, is limited to specific purposes and is retained only long enough to serve the purposes of the survey or program, and the Census that covers all Canadians and is retained in perpetuity. Ms. Lill was supportive of access to Historic Census records. The only negative aspects of her speech were her apparent support for the 'informed consent' clause, and having made no mention of the amendments we seek. She concluded her speech by stating "The information in census records may be the most complete picture of a person's life that his or her ancestors may have or historians can access. We want to ensure that the fair access to records moves ahead and we will be supporting this bill."

The full extracted Hansard transcript of the second round of debate on Bill S-13 can be viewed at

Debate concluded with a verbal vote on the motion, which passed. However, in accordance with House Rules, more than five Members had 'risen' causing a recorded vote to be required. It was directed that such recorded vote would take place on the next sitting Monday.

In reading the Hansard record of debate on Bill S-13 it would appear that many aspects of the Bill, and their effect on public access to the Census records are not fully understood. There is confusion regarding access vs. release, what may or may not be published after 92 or 112 years, and in particular the effect of the 'informed consent' clause. Some Members appear to believe that should consent not be given for future access of records from 2006 those records would still be accessible after 112 years. Not so! Without consent those records would never be accessible.

Parliament is prorogued - Bill S-13 is dead - maybe!

Parliament was recessed on Friday 7 November 2003 because of the Liberal leadership convention to take place the following week. It was expected that Parliament would resume sitting on Monday 17 November 2003. This was, however, forestalled by the announcement of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien that Parliament was to be prorogued on Wednesday 12 November.

When Parliament is prorogued, all unfinished business ceases to exist. Bills and motions all die on the order paper. This includes Bill S-13. At this point in time S-13 is dead. That does not mean, however, that it might not be resurrected.

Unless the Parliamentary Calendar is changed it is expected that Parliament will begin sitting in a new Session on 26 January 2004. With the start of a new Session, Rules of Parliament permit the bringing forward of those Bills and Motions that the government wishes to see continue from the stage they were at with the proroguing of the earlier session. This could include all unfinished business from the previous session, or only specific bills or motions. This means that while S-13 is currently dead, it is not necessarily buried and forgotten.

It has been reported in the media that an agreement was made between Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his successor Paul Martin to bring forward unfinished business to the new Session of Parliament. It is unknown at this time whether that means all unfinished business, or only specific bills or motions. In any case it means that there is a definite possibility that Bill S-13 could be brought forward for a vote, and referral to Committee. This is not necessarily good news for those who oppose the conditions and restrictions on access that it would impose. Most of those expressing opinions would rather see S-13 remain dead and buried.

What now?

Paul Martin takes over as Prime Minister on 12 December 2003. When that takes place he will be choosing new Cabinet members - including those who will be Minister of Heritage (responsible for the National Library and Archives) and Minister of Industry (responsible for Statistics Canada). At this time we should be writing to Mr. Martin to encourage him to appoint a Minister for Heritage who will continue to support those online programs of the National Library and Archives that assist genealogists and historians - in particular scanned images of historical Census records. We must encourage him to appoint a Minister of Industry who will support unrestricted access to Census records after 92 years. We must advise him that we seek the same unrestricted access to Historic Census records that has been available for 240 years of Census up to 1906.

At the same time we must continue to contact our Parliamentary representatives to advise them that the conditions and restrictions that Bill S-13 would impose are not what is desired by those seeking access to Historical Census records. We must advise them that those conditions and restrictions have all been rejected by every survey and every report conducted to date. We must impress upon them that the value of Census is in its completeness, and that the 'informed consent' clause would forever destroy that completeness of Census from 2006 by individuals withholding consent for eventual release of Census information.

Considering the possibility of Bill S-13 being resurrected in the next session of Parliament, and being referred to Committee, we must now prepare our submissions to that Committee so that they are ready when needed.

Until next time. Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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