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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 24 May 2006
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts Topics in this week's issue include:
  • 2006 Census: Census Day 2006 has come and gone
  • 2006 Census: Promises, promises repeated - and then reality
  • 2006 Census: Statistics Canada's 'helpful hint'
  • 2006 Census: Changing your mind
  • 2006 Census: Short form questions insufficient for history
  • British Columbia Vital Events online
  • 1851 Census of Canada online
  • News From Library and Archives Canada
Scroll down this page to access any or all...

Census Day 2006 has come and gone

As the headline states, Census Day 2006 has come and gone, and I have a confession to make - I did not complete my Census questionnaire by the appointed date. On 16/17 May I was on the road, travelling to visit my son in Calgary for the May long weekend. At that time his two daughters were visiting from Kelowna, where their mother recently moved them. The oldest of my son's daughters, first born of my four grandchildren, coincidentally became a teenager on Census Day 2006. Her sister, third of my grandchildren, turned ten on the 20th. To date I have been fortunate enough to be with them either on, or near, each of their birthdays since they were born.

To return to the topic in hand, although I did not get my Census questionnaire completed by the appointed date, I did complete it online on 18 May, two days late. Why do I tell you this? Simply to let you know that if you did not complete your questionnaire by the appointed date, it is not too late to do so. Doing so now will likely forestall a number of phone calls and/or personal visits from one of Statistics Canada's enumerators, not to mention relieving your fears of being fined or imprisoned. <]:-)

If you have lost or misplaced your Census questionnaire, or have other questions about it, give the Census Help Line a call at 1-877-594-2006.

Oh, yes - if you are late in completing your questionnaire, don't forget to respond YES to the informed consent question.

Promises, promises repeated - and then reality

The statements below were extracted from records of Hansard for the proceedings of Senate Committee hearings on Bills S-13, and S-18. Bill S-13, you will recall, was the first of two government attempts to resolve issues relating to the public access of Historic Census records that existing legislation stated we were already entitled to. It failed mostly because of unrealistic conditions it would have imposed upon those wishing to research the records. It also included an 'informed consent' provision that did not go over well.

The passage of the later Bill (S-18) ensured the unrestricted public access, 92 years after collection, that we now have for records up to and including those for 2001. Unfortunately, Bill S-18 also imposed the 'informed consent' question that, for the first time in 340 years of Census taking, was asked on Census 2006 questionnaires.
    27 Feb 2003 - Bill S-13

    "I made a private undertaking with the national archivist which I am glad to make public as part of the record. I undertook to work with the archivist in the publicity program regarding future censuses because there is a massive publicity campaign that surrounds the census. It is an opportunity to encourage Canadians to provide their permission. Because this is a public meeting I am hereby committing my successors to do the same."

    24 Feb 2005 - Bill S-18

    "Last, but not least, I have committed previously, and I still am committed, to work with all stakeholders to give effect and to encourage Canadians to declare themselves in favour of sharing their census records 92 years after the event."
Ivan P. Fellegi, O.C. These statements (emphasis mine) were made by Canada's Chief Statistician, Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, and are proof of his stated commitment to encourage respondents to Census to answer YES to the question that would allow information they provide to be made accessible 92 years in the future.

In fairness, I should perhaps preface my comments by stating that I have not seen, heard or read every television advertisement, every radio commercial or every newspaper ad produced by Statistics Canada. However, those that I did see, hear or read failed miserably to live up to the promise of Canada's Chief Statistician to actively promote, and campaign to urge respondents to Census to answer YES to the informed consent question. The promises made far exceed the reality of what we failed to see, hear or read.

In paid advertising promoting Canadians to 'Count yourself in' by completing the Census forms, either online or by mailing the paper questionnaires, I did not once see, hear or read anything to the effect that the government of Canada, or Statistics Canada, encouraged respondents to ensure their place in history by answering YES. They did however, emphasize that confidentiality of the Census is paramount.

Radio and television advertisements promoting completion of the Census online stated that the website 'provides the highest level of protection for your information'. They stated 'By law, your information is kept confidential'. They did not mention that information for those answering YES would be allowed release 92 years in the future. And certainly, they made no mention at all that even suggested that Statistics Canada, or the government of Canada, encouraged a positive response to the informed consent question.

Press releases from Statistics Canada may have mentioned the informed consent question, and may have encouraged respondents to answer YES. But those few that I have seen, while perhaps stating what will happen if the question is answered YES or NO, did little to indicate that the government supported and encouraged a positive response. Simply stating what would happen if the question is answered YES or NO is a far cry from encouraging a positive response.

In any case, when the media receives a press release from the government, or any specific department of government, they pick and choose the parts of the release that they wish to include in articles they publish. Unfortunately, with some exceptions, few media articles that I saw even mentioned the question, let alone emphasized it and the need for a positive response.

The government of Australia worked actively with genealogists and historians to promote a positive response to their question. The government of Canada, for the most part, left encouragement to answer YES up to the 'word of mouth' advertising by genealogists and historians. Canada failed dismally to live up to the promises made by the Chief Statistician during Senate Committee hearings on Bill S-13 and repeated in hearings for Bill S-18.

To be fair, part of the Statistics Canada website suggests that respondents should answer the question positively. One page, located at is titled 'The 92 Year Question - Say Yes!' and explains reasonably well why respondents should answer YES. Had the information on this page been included as an insert with the questionnaire delivered to 13 million households in Canada, I would have considered the promise of Dr. Fellegi fulfilled. This page however, is buried far within the website and is normally accessible only by first going through several preliminary pages. This area of the website will have seen a limited number of visitors. Unless they knew specifically what they were looking for, someone unfamiliar with the Statistics Canada website might as well be looking in the yellow pages of online telephone directories.

Canada likes to boast that it is the most 'connected' country in the world. I cannot state whether or not it lives up to that boast. In any case, I have a news flash for the powers that be - not everyone in Canada has access to the Internet. Further, not everyone who does have access to the net will access the webpages of Statistics Canada, and fewer still will seek out a specific page of that website. To fulfill the promises made, every respondent to Census must have been made aware that Canada, and Statistics Canada, encouraged a positive response to the question. Sadly, that did not happen and the history of Canada, and Canadians, will suffer because of it.

Statistics Canada's 'helpful hint'

Considering everything stated above, when completing my own long form Census online, I was somewhat disturbed on reading the following 'helpful hint' regarding the informed consent question: (emphasis mine)
    "When answering this question, please consult with each person in the household to obtain their views before responding. If their views are not known, the question for that person should be left unanswered. Parents and legal guardians should answer on behalf of children."
As stated on the Census questionnaires, anyone failing to answer the question will be deemed to have answered NO. I am perhaps viewing this with a jaundiced eye, but it seems to me that rather than encouraging a positive response to the question, this does exactly the opposite.

Changing your mind

For those who neglected to answer the informed consent question on their Census questionnaire, or wish to change their response, it is not too late. During the Senate Committee hearings mentioned above, Chief Statistician Ivan P. Fellegi committed to permit respondents to Census to modify the way the informed consent question was answered, or not answered on the questionnaire. The response to this question can be changed at any time prior to the release of the records to Library and Archives Canada, 92 years after collection.

I suspect this provision is unlikely to get a great deal of publicity. It did however, show up on the Census questionnaire and in information relating to the reasons questions are asked.
    "In the event that a person wishes to change their response or to provide a response where the question was left unanswered, write to the Coordinator, Access to Information and Privacy, Statistics Canada, 120 Parkdale Avenue, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0T6"

Short form questions insufficient for history

There is a considerable amount of information available for research on records of Census for Canada currently available either online, or through microform. Compared with what is available on the Censuses for 1901, 1906 or 1911, the information available on today's short form Census questionnaire will be sadly lacking, and will provide little information for those seeking us in the future. It is perhaps something that we should seek to change for future Censuses.

The questions currently asked on the short form questionnaire that 80 percent of Canadian households receive include the following: Name, Sex, Date of Birth, Marital Status, Common-law relationship, Relationship to Person 1 (presumably head of household), Language first learned and still understood. And of course, we cannot forget the informed consent question.

Questions currently asked on the long form questionnaire that I would like to see moved to the short form questionnaire would include: Place of Birth, Citizenship, status as a Landed Immigrant, Year/date of Immigration, Racial origin, Ethnic or Cultural origins of ancestors, Birth Place of Parents.

With these questions added, the short form Census questionnaire would have far greater value as a record for historical or genealogical research.

British Columbia Vital Events

BC Coat of Arms The Vancouver Public Library recently announced they now have the latest release of B.C. vital events records. The films are available in Fine Arts and History on Level 6 of the main branch of the library. These microfilms cover marriages up to 1930 and deaths up to 1985 that occurred in British Columbia. Unfortunately, a few years ago the government of British Columbia increased the period of closure for release of Birth registrations from 100 to 120 years. As a result, no new Birth registrations have been released.

Other Lower Mainland libraries known to keep films of B.C. Vital Events are the library of Simon Fraser Library, and the Cloverdale Public Library.

Indexes of B.C. Vital Events are available online through the British Columbia Archives at:

[Editor: More BC searchable data links here, including BC Vital Events]

Census of Canada 1851 online

Library and Archives Canada recently placed scanned images of the Census of 1851 online (Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Following their practice for the release of online Census records for 1901, 1906 and 1911, LAC released the records without great fanfare, thus lessening the possibility of an overload crashing their computers. 1851 Census images for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are presented with the support of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management . The records are indexed by location only - not by surname. The Census is a 'head of household only' record, or 'full family' record, depending upon the area being viewed. This is most likely due to the fact that prior to Confederation, these areas were separate colonies with each doing things their own way. I suspect it will not take long for the various groups to start surname indexing. The Census of 1851 is accessible through Library and Archives Canada

[Editor: More years of Canadian census here, including 1851 census]

News From Library and Archives Canada

Coffee Pot, Patent no. 34325, filed by John Smith, 1890 Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of Made in Canada: Patents of Invention and the Story of Canadian Innovation, a project funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Canadian Culture Online initiative and in partnership with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).

This website features a collection of digitized images taken from microfilmed Canadian patents filed between the years 1869 and 1894. In addition, a database covering the same time span enables viewing of over 14,000 full patents registered in Canada by Canadian citizens or residents.

This virtual exhibition features Canadian patents grouped under the following themes: Agriculture; Canada and War; Communication; Gadgets and Things for Everyday Life; Industry; Medicine; Science and Technology; and Transportation.

You are invited to visit the site at:

[Editor: More links to searchable data from Library & Archives Canada, including Canadian Patents]

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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