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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 30 August 2007
By: Gordon A. Watts Biography & Archived Articles
Topics in this month's column include:
It has been a longer than normal period since my last column was published. For that I apologize. My main excuse (among many) for this might be put down to temporary insanity as I have done some travelling in the meantime - including a quick trip to Ottawa to talk with bureaucrats, and pulling my fifth wheel trailer through Saskatchewan in 40 plus degrees (C) weather. Twice during my trip through the Prairie Provinces we had to sit for several hours because my brother's Class A motor home decided to vapour-lock the fuel line and we had to wait for it to cool down before being able to continue down the road.
As it happens, I am still on the road, so to speak, sitting this morning at 6:00 am trying to finish this column, at an RV park 100 km from home. I am waiting for the arrival of my daughter and two of my grandchildren who will be staying with me for the Labour Day weekend. Travelling and visiting with friends and family has been enjoyable, but it is not conducive to sitting down and writing a column. As such, this column has been limited to only two articles - they are however, both very important articles that will require the eventual participation of many of my faithful readers. So, without further ado, here we go.
Meetings in Ottawa
As reported in my last column, in July I travelled to Ottawa to participate in meetings with representatives from Statistics Canada, and from the Offices of the Privacy and Information Commissioners of Canada. In addition to myself, there were three members of the Canadian Historical Association attending these meetings - Craig Heron, Professor of History at York University, and current President of the Canadian Historical Association; Eric Sager - Professor of History at University of Victoria, and researcher on the Canadian Families Project and the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure Project; and Kris Inwood - Professor of Economics at University of Guelph, and researcher on the 1891 Census of Canada Project.
The purpose of these meetings was to express our concerns regarding the poor positive response to the 'informed consent' question now imposed on the 2006 and subsequent Censuses, and to seek support for an early review of the administration and operation of the 'question' as mandated in the Statistics Act. The meetings were held on Monday 16 July and Tuesday 17 July 2007. (See my column posted 24 April 2007 for details of the poor positive response on the 2006 Census)
The first meeting we attended (10:00 AM Monday 16 July 2007) was with representatives of the Office of the Information Commissioner. Present were Andrea Neill - Assistant Commissioner, Complaints Resolution and Compliance; Sharon Nadeau - Assistant Director, General Investigations and Reviews; Dan O'Donnell - Chief, Operations Directorate; Larry Kearley - Senior Legal Advisor; and Marc-Aurèle Racicot - Research and External Relations.
Craig Heron began by introducing the members of our panel, and briefly explained the purpose of requesting a meeting. Eric Sager, followed by Kris Inwood, expressed concerns regarding the 'informed consent' question from the point of view of historians, and then I did the same from the point of view of genealogists. Each of us expressed the importance of seeking an early implementation of the review mandated in Bill S-18 (and now in the Statistics Act) and sought the support of the Office of the Information Commissioner in that endeavour.
Our presentations were received cautiously and politely, and perhaps with some sympathy, but without commitment to anything. As a government agency they perhaps did not wish to be seen as attacking legislation passed by Parliament only two years earlier. They expressed some concern about just what we were seeking from them, and may have been relieved to hear that we simply wished them to be supportive when the matter of an early review was brought up for consideration.
As was the case in our earlier meeting, Craig Heron introduced the members of our panel. We then presented our concerns as we had to the representatives of the Office of the Information Commissioner. The response from the StatCan representatives was perhaps a little more cautious than that from the previous meeting. This may have been because the concerns we expressed had a more direct effect on them than they did on the Offices of either the Information or Privacy Commissioners.
During our discussions here, because of the times involved in preparing for each Census, we were made even more conscious of the need to press for an immediate review. Even should we be successful in gaining an immediate review, and such a review could expeditiously make recommendations for change, it is a certainty that such changes could not be implemented in time for the 2011 Census, or possibly even for the 2016 Census. Even should any significant change, i.e. removal of the question or changing the 'opt-in' aspect of it to 'opt-out', be immediately recommended, we could be looking at the 2021 Census before it is implemented.
One area in which some hope of improvement exists is in the wording of the question, and arrangements were made for some future dialogue between us. There was discussion regarding improvements needed in advertising to promote a positive response. There was discussion also regarding the reasons respondents answered 'NO' or did not answer. Subsequent to our meeting, Statistics Canada has undertaken to study the 'NO' and 'no answer' responses and to conduct some research, i.e. focus groups and one-on-one interviews, into the reasons for them. Members of our panel have been invited to sit in on some of the focus groups.
At first glance it might seem that these meetings have accomplished nothing concrete. However, those who believe that would be mistaken. By meeting with representatives of Statistics Canada and the Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners we have served notice that the historians and genealogists of Canada do not take the devaluation of historic Census records lightly, and that we will continue to lobby government to seek the removal of the 'informed consent' provision from future Censuses. The Census is perhaps the most important record of Canada's history. We do not believe that anyone should be able to opt out of history by not giving permission for his or her Census information to be made publicly available in 92 years.
My report here would not be complete without thanking Craig Heron and Eric Sager for initiating these meetings. Thanks go also to the Canadian Historical Association for providing the funding to allow me to travel to Ottawa in order to participate in them.
Library and Archives Canada cut hours
Effective 1 September 2007 the reduced hours of operation, as taken from the LAC website will be as follows:
In addition to the regular hours of service, certain rooms will be accessible but unstaffed during the following hours.
All research facilities will be closed on statutory holidays, including Labour Day, September 3, 2007.
Library and Archives explains the change in hours of operation as follows:
The reduced hours will have a drastic effect on local patrons who work during the day and are unable to attend LAC during the reduced hours of operation. Those who travel to Ottawa with the express purpose of visiting and researching at the archives will be adversely affected as well. The stated reason for the change in hours is to provide "quality services to all Canadians, wherever they live". One must wonder however, how reducing the hours during which there will be staff available for patron assistance is an improvement. I suspect that rather than an attempt to 'improve service', the reasons for the reduced hours are more monetary than otherwise. I can see the parent Ministry of Library and Archives Canada (Heritage Canada) applying pressure to reduce operating expenses by reducing the manned hours of operation and the number of employees required to provide that service.
It is my understanding that, unlike past changes that have affected public access to the library and archives, there has been no prior public consultation leading up to these changes in hours of operation. Patrons have had no opportunity to provide input as to how such changes would affect their access. It is my feeling that public consultations should have taken place before such changes were made. All is not lost however, and those adversely affected by these changes can still make their views known. LAC's announcement included a method to do this by including the following note:
Until next time.
Gordon A. Watts firstname.lastname@example.org
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