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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 13 April 2006
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts Census 2006 - Reasons to say YES

On 31 March 2006 I posted a message to a number of genealogical mail lists suggesting a few reasons for respondents to answer YES to the 'informed consent' question on the upcoming Census. I asked readers of my post to suggest other reasons. A number of people responded to my request. I have consolidated the reasons submitted and list them below the question to be asked, which although I included it in my last column, I repeat here. The question is number 8 on the short form, and number 53 on the long form.
    The following question is for all persons who usually live here including those less than 15 years old.

    If you are answering on behalf of other people, please consult each person.

    53. The Statistics Act guarantees the confidentiality of your census information. Only if you mark "YES" to this question will your personal information be made public, 92 years after the 2006 Census. If you mark "NO" or leave the answer blank, your personal information will never be made publicly available.

    Does this person agree to make his/her 2006 Census information available for public release in 2098 (92 years after the census)?

     Yes       No

Why should you answer YES to the 'informed consent' question on Census? The greatest value of Census records to researchers is in their 'completeness'. If significant numbers of respondents answer negatively, or do not answer this question at all, it will destroy the completeness of the records, and thus their value to genealogical or historical researchers will be forever destroyed. If certain kinds of persons do not answer this question, research based on 100% nominal census data will be biased and its value therefore compromised. The following list shows only a few examples of where Historic Census has been used successfully to benefit people today:
  • For genealogical research. To find information about ancestors you may or may not have previously known existed. To find the make-up of their families and how they evolved through successive Censuses. To learn where they lived, their occupations, when and where they were born, ethnic origins, education and religion, etc.
  • For sociological, demographic, economic and historic research: historical information on the social structure of Canada - sizes of families, age groupings of children, grandparents and siblings at home, servants and other household attendants, education, religious affiliation, race, ethnic origins, housing, business and agriculture production, immigration, patterns of migration, etc. Historical Census data, especially long-term Census data series, allow us to research patterns of economic and social inequality, and to examine the roots of important family patterns such as living alone, single-parent families and blended families.
  • To verify age, or date and place of birth where other sources are unavailable, in order to establish eligibility for pensions, etc.
  • To prove identity to obtain legal documents, i.e. passports, birth certificates.
  • To determine descendancy to settle estates where no will has been found.
  • To provide clues to genetically inherited diseases or disabilities.
  • To show proof of residency in order to prove land or property title.
  • To establish legal entitlement as a member of a group, i.e. as a Native Indian.
  • To verify group residency or land use to settle Aboriginal land claims.
  • To verify current owners of properties, or heirs of same, where property is to be sold for non-payment of taxes.
  • To establish or verify original owners of rights of way, mineral rights, or foreshore rights.
  • To ensure your place in the history of Canada
As also reported in my last column, it is important to 'spread the word' as widely as possible. To that end I have developed an information sheet that includes the above reasons to answer YES. This information sheet is available in letter size (2 pages) or legal size (1 page) and is suitable for posting in public places, or for forwarding to others. Click one of the following links to download these PDF files.

Ensure your place in the history of Canada. On Census Day 16 May 2006, answer YES to allow your information to be made available to your descendants in 2098. Ask everyone you know to do so as well.

For more information visit the Post 1901 Census Project website at

Some answers to questions

I am frequently asked questions relating to the upcoming Census and, while I usually respond directly to those asking the questions, some of them will be of general interest so I include them here.
    Q. I thought Censuses were conducted every 10 years. We had a Census in 2001. Why is there another one being held now, in 2006?

    A. Since Confederation there has been a National Census conducted every ten years, on years ending in '1' (decennial years). Since 1906 there has also been a Census of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, taken every ten years, on years ending in '6' (quinquennial years). In 1956, the first nationwide Census of Canada was conducted. Since that time there has been a National Census of Canada conducted every five years, on decennial and quinquennial years.

    Q. I expect to be out of the country on Census Day. How can I ensure that I am counted in the Census and be able to answer YES to allow my descendants access to my information in the future.

    A. There are a number of ways to make certain you are 'counted in' for Census 2006.

    By hand: If the questionnaire is received before departure, complete and mail it before leaving home. If you return shortly after May 16th the questionnaire could be filled in and mailed back immediately. If you return home after May, call the toll-free Census Help Line (CHL) 1-877-594-2006.

    By telephone: Starting 1 April 2006, if you are going to be away for an extended period of time, you can also contact the CHL (1-877-594-2006) to complete the questionnaire over the phone.

    On-line: In order to complete the questionnaire on-line you will require an internet access code which will be on the paper Census questionnaire delivered to your home. Starting 2 May 2006, and for a short period after the Census, if you have an internet access code you can use it to complete the questionnaire from any where in the world. If possible, you should do this before you leave home.

    Q. I am a Canadian resident, currently living and working abroad. Should I fill in a Census questionnaire?

    A. Canadians abroad can complete a census questionnaire at a Canadian Embassy if they will be away for an extended period. If you are abroad working for the Foreign Service, the Department of National Defence, or for a provincial or territorial government, your questionnaire will be delivered to your place of work. If you do not receive your questionnaire by 16 May, inform your supervisor.

    Q. We had to fight for seven years to get records of the 1911 Census released for public access. Are we going to have to fight again to get subsequent records released?

    A. The passage of Bill S-18 ensured that ALL Historic Census records from 1911 to 2005 would be turned over to Library and Archives Canada 92 years after collection, and will be subsequently released to the public with no further action on our part. The same applies to Censuses conducted from 2006 and on, with the exception that those wishing their information released in the future must answer YES to the informed consent question. Information on those answering NO, or not answering it at all, will NEVER have their information released, 92 years in the future or otherwise.

    Q. Is the 'informed consent' question a 'one time thing' or will it be asked every census?

    A. The 'informed consent' question is a 'one time thing' in that your response on the 2006 Census will apply ONLY to information you provide on this Census -- it will not apply to Censuses taken in the future. Having said that, the same question will appear on Censuses conducted in 2011 and on, so you will have to respond to it again, and again, and again.

    Q. Are we 'stuck' with the 'informed consent' question forever, or is it possible to get it removed for future Censuses?

    A. Bill S-18 included a provision for a parliamentary review of the effect of the 'informed consent' question, by either the Senate or the House of Commons, or both, after two Censuses had been conducted under it. It is unlikely the 'informed consent' question would be removed from future Censuses without another extensive lobbying effort. In any case, until the review is under way there is little we can do except keep track of the response statistics for the question.

    Q. Will information provided on accessible Census be limited to 'graveyard' information?

    A. There is no legislative restriction whatsoever to what information will be released from the 'Census of population' so there will be no such thing as 'graveyard information' only. There are also no legislative restrictions as to what might be done with information obtained through accessible Census records. I suspect online versions of the released information may be limited to 'short form' information, but 'long form' information may likely be available in microform. This, however, is simply supposition on my part.

    Q. Census Day 2006 is 16 May. Why are enumerators already canvassing areas in Nunavut and reservations in remote areas of Manitoba, etc.?

    A. Statistics Canada has started collection in remote areas. Enumeration in Inuit communities in the Northwest Territories, Labrador and Nunavut is underway as well as on reserves in northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. This is an established procedure for collection in remote areas since the residents in many of these areas go off to smaller camps in the spring and are difficult to contact.

    Q. The census takers have been doing their rounds in Nunavut over the past few weeks. They don't just drop off forms for people to mail in but they actually go door to door doing interviews. They came to my house to do our family but they didn't ask about making our info public in the future. Can you please clarify if this question is only being asked on the census forms for Southern Canadians or whether it is supposed to also be asked by enumerators in our part of the country?

    A. The Statistics Act, insofar as the 'informed consent' question is concerned does not distinguish between regions of Canada The 'informed consent' question, whether filling out the form yourself, or being completed by a visiting enumerator, should be asked and answered whatever your location.

    If enumerators do not ask for a response to the informed consent question, you should call the Census Help Line at 1 877 594-2006 and complain about it. I would be interested in knowing what the response to such a call might be.

    I am concerned about hearing any reports that people canvassed in person by enumerators are not being given the opportunity to respond to the 'informed consent' question. Please advise me by email at regarding any such occurrences.

    Q. Who can I contact about questions I might have regarding the Census questionnaire? A. After 1 May 2006 call the Census Help Line (CHL) at 1-877-594-2006. Contact Statistics Canada by email at or visit the Statistics Canada 2006 Census website at

We are not alone

Canada is not the only country that is conducting a Census this year, and although most countries do not include an 'informed consent' question, we are not the only country to be saddled with one. The next Census of Australia is due to be held on 8 August 2006. The following press release was received from Nick Vine Hall who has spearheaded the twenty plus year campaign to see Census records in Australia retained for public access after a period of closure.

    "The next Australian census will be conducted on the night of Tuesday 8 August 2006 and will cost in the order of 300 million dollars. It will contain 61 questions, of which all will be compulsory except the ones on religion and census retention.

    The retention question (Q60) reads:

      "Does each person in this household agree to his/her name and address and other information on this form being kept by the National Archives of Australia and then made publicly available after 99 years?"

    If this question is ignored, it will be treated as a NO.

    The Census Information Legislation Amendment Bill (2005) was introduced into the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament on 3 November 2005 and passed later that month unopposed. It was passed by the Australian Senate on 27 February 2006 and awaits Royal assent to become law.

    The Bill amends the Census and Statistics Act (1905) and the Archives Act (1983) relating to the retention of identified census information by the National Archives of Australia The Bill ensures that name identified information collected in all future Australian censuses will be preserved for future genealogical and other research. Retention only applies to information supplied by those households that provide explicit consent on the census form. Some 51 percent of Australian's answered "YES" to the retention of their forms in the 2001 census survey. This was in effect a national referendum of the Australian people and a majority voted that our history matters. We can do even better this year.

    As with the 2001 survey, during the 99-year period, the name identified information will not be released by the National Archives under any circumstances.

    The Australasian Federation of Family History Organizations (AFFHO) is working closely with the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the National Archives of Australia to assist in the national public education campaign prior to census night. Please support us by encouraging as many Australians as possible to answer YES in the census question concerning the retention of this vital record of the Australian culture. Unless you answer YES your census form will not be retained in the archives.

    More details will soon be published on the AFFHO webpage of the campaign and how you can help.

    Nick VINE HALL,
    AFFHO Census Working Party
Nick requests that all Australian genealogy and historical societies include this information in upcoming journals and newsletters, and to 'spread the word' as widely as possible.

Unlike our own situation, where imposition of the 'informed consent' question on Census has been a retrogressive step down, imposition of a similar question on Census for Australia has actually been a step up. Census records in Canada have always been retained, and until the Chief Statistician withheld records after 1901, had always been released to public access after a period of closure. However, until 2001, Census records in Australia had traditionally been destroyed immediately after statistical compilation. For the first time, in 2001 Australia included an 'informed consent' question to which more than 51% of respondents answered YES.

Legislation relating to retention of the records and the 'informed consent' question on the 2001 Census of Australia pertained to that Census only, and did not consider similar actions on future Censuses. The legislation referred to in the press release above, now ensures that records of Census from 2006 and on will be retained, and for those who answer YES to the question, will be released to public access after 99 years.

We congratulate Nick Vine Hall, and all who worked with him, for the success in their twenty-year campaign.

A message from Ian E. Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

March 31, 2006

Every five years Statistics Canada conducts a national Census of Population. The next Census Day is Tuesday, May 16, 2006.

The National Census is an unparalleled source of information about Canada and its population. Information about seniors, immigrants, ethnic groups and workers that might otherwise be lost is captured and stored through census data Also, because the census is conducted every five years using consistent lines of questions, it is possible to compare even subtle changes that have occurred in the demographics of Canada's population over time.

Those of you who have done historical research or who have read history know the value of census records. Important studies in the field of social history by Canadian scholars such as Chad Gaffield, Bettina Bradbury, Bruce Elliott and Ruth Sandwell have relied heavily on raw data found in census records. These historians have collectively shaped our national memory by shedding light on the history of the Canadian family, immigration and rural life. Without census records, and the valuable information they contain, these and other social historians would lack the resources necessary to weave the tapestry of Canada's rich and textured past.

Census data are transferred to Library and Archives Canada and made publicly available 92 years after they are recorded. This year, for the first time, Canadians will have the opportunity to choose if they wish to have their census information shared with future Canadians in this way. Information gathered in 2006 will be transferred from Statistics Canada to Library and Archives Canada in 2098, for those who gave their permission. These records will provide a wealth of information for future historians and those with an interest in the history and development of Canada

I am inviting you to count yourself in on Census Day this year and to be sure to indicate your agreement to help ensure that your role in Canada's history is recognized now and well into the future. You, too, can take an active role in the promotion of Census Day 2006 by encouraging your friends to also take their place in history. Together, we can help ensure a strong and vital Canadian historical record that will benefit future generations.

New from Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada has added three new databases to the Canadian Genealogy Centre. Each of them is searchable online, and through online help there is a brief background history and explanation of the database.
    Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book (1832) Organizations such as the Montreal Emigrant Society were founded to help immigrants. This research tool provides access to 1,945 references to people who received aid from the Montreal Emigrant Society between May 12 and November 5, 1832.

    Port of New Westminster - Register of Chinese Immigration (1887-1908) The Department of Immigration created documents specifically for new arrivals from China The research tool provides access to 470 references to Chinese immigrants who arrived at the port of New Westminster between 1887 and 1908.

    Upper Canada and Canada West Naturalization Registers (1828-1850) Before 1947, foreigners could petition for naturalization. Library and Archives Canada holds several naturalization registers for Upper Canada/Canada West (now Ontario), for the years 1828 to 1850 only, organized by year within each county. This research tool contains 3,344 references.

In conjunction with these new databases, Library and Archives Canada has announced the launch of a new virtual exhibition, Moving Here, Staying Here: the Canadian Immigrant Experience. This site, funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Canadian Culture Online initiative, uses documents held by Library and Archives Canada to tell the exciting story of immigration to Canada from the early 19th century to the outbreak of the Second World War. Narratives and records will help you see first hand the trials of immigration. You can also find out about your own family's history through databases of digitized documents. Stories enhanced by original documents such as manuscripts, publications and visual material, as well as digitized passenger lists, immigrant diaries and muster rolls, will be added to this exhibition in the next few months. You are invited to visit Moving Here, Staying Here at: http://www.collectionsCanada ca/immigrants/index-e.html

Brian W. Hutchison Genealogical Scholarship

The Alberta Family Histories Society is once again pleased to announce the availability of the Brian W. Hutchison Genealogical Scholarship of up to $500 to be awarded to a Canadian resident, towards the cost of tuition and books, for the recipient to study the field of genealogy and family history in a recognized educational or accreditation program.

The Brian W. Hutchison Scholarship is funded by an endowment to the Alberta Family Histories Society from Brian W. Hutchison, CG, FSA (Scot), principal of GEN-FIND Research Associates, Inc. It is Mr. Hutchison's wish to encourage Canadians to pursue formal study of genealogical analysis, research, evaluation, and documentation methodologies and standards.

The Scholarship for 2006 will be awarded in the Spring 2007. The deadline for applications is 31 December 2006.

Further information can be found at: Brian W. Hutchison Genealogical Scholarship or by writing to: Alberta Family Histories Society 712 -16 Avenue N.W. Calgary AB T2M OJ8 Attention: Scholarship Committee.

Jeff Paul moves on

Those who participated in our efforts to regain public access to Historic Census records, or simply followed our progress, will be familiar with the name of Jeff Paul. For a good part of our seven year campaign Jeff was Policy Advisor to Senator Lorna Milne - our champion in the Senate. He was a big help to us, working behind the scenes with Senator Milne.

Jeff advises that he is moving on to new challenges as he has been hired as a policy analyst with the Liberal Research Bureau. I am certain that he will be missed by Senator Milne and the rest of her support staff. I am certain also that Jeff will do as well in his new job, as he has in done in the job he is leaving.

To Jeff, we would like to say 'thanks for all your help in the past several years'. We wish you well with your new challenge, and in all your future endeavours.

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

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