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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 27 March 2008
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this column include:
  • Canada's Chief Statistician to retire
  • A Letter to Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi
  • Work continues on 'informed consent' question
  • 1916 Census transferred to Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
  • Library and Archives Canada (LAC)Services Advisory Board
  • Library and Archives Canada (LAC) considers partnership

Scroll down this page to read the complete articles...

Canada's Chief Statistician to retire

I copy below part of an announcement taken from the Media Centre page on the website of the Prime Minister of Canada. Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada is finally taking his well-deserved, overdue retirement, effective 16 June 2008. Dr. Fellegi was born in June 1935, which would make him 73 years of age at his retirement.

    February 15, 2008
    Ottawa, Ontario

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today the following changes in the senior ranks of the Public Service:

    Ivan Fellegi, currently Chief Statistician, becomes Chief Statistician Emeritus following his retirement, effective June 16, 2008.

    Munir Sheikh, currently Deputy Minister of Labour and Associate Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, becomes Chief Statistician Designate, effective March 3, 2008 and, following the retirement of Mr. Fellegi, will become Chief Statistician, effective June 16, 2008. ………………..

    …………….The Prime Minister took the opportunity to thank Ivan Fellegi for his dedication to the Public Service and his extensive contribution in serving Canadians over the years, and to wish him all the best in his future endeavours.
I know nothing about Dr. Fellegi's announced successor, Munir Sheikh, but will look forward with interest to see how he deals with the issues that we were long at odds with Dr. Fellegi about.

The full announcement, including these and other changes, and biographical information for both Dr. Fellegi and his successor can be viewed by clicking this link.

Letter to Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi

Many genealogists and historians believe that had Dr. Fellegi retired at age 65 (no longer mandatory for federal employees) it would not have been necessary to wage an eight year battle to regain the public access to historic Census records that existing legislation already stated we were entitled to have. It is hard to say whether or not that would have been the case.

Regardless of what our feelings about this are, on the occasion of Dr. Fellegi's retirement it does not hurt us to be gracious and wish him well in his retirement. With that in mind, I copy here the email message I recently sent to him. I have not as yet received any response from him, and I do not really expect one.
    From: Gordon A. Watts
    To: Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi
    Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 12:59 PM
    Subject: Your impending retirement

    Dr. Fellegi.

    It was with great interest that I recently learned of your impending retirement, effective 16 June 2008.

    We have long been at odds regarding the release of Historic Census records. In particular, we continue to disagree regarding any need for respondents to provide consent for release, 92 years after collection, of information they provide to Census. It is my intention, along with members of the Canadian Historical Association, to continue working with staff of Statistics Canada to improve existing wording of the 'informed consent' question on Census. My eventual goal however, and that of genealogists and historians, is to eliminate inclusion of any such question from future Censuses.

    Regardless of our opposing positions on this matter, during your term as Chief Statistician of Canada you have developed Statistics Canada into a facility truly deserving of its reputation as one of the top statistical agencies in the world. You can be justifiably proud of this accomplishment.

    I offer you my congratulations. My wish for you is to enjoy a long, healthy and happy retirement.

    Respectfully yours,

    Gordon A. Watts
    Co-chair, Canada Census Committee
    Port Coquitlam, British Columbia

Work continues on 'informed consent' question

In my column posted 30 August 2007 I reported on meetings held between myself and three members of the Canadian Historical Association, Statistics Canada, and the Information and Privacy Commissioners. At that time I reported that arrangements had been made for a continuing dialogue with Statistics Canada.

In recent months there have been a number of communications between Statistics Canada and ourselves. These communications have resulted in a tentative rewording of 'the question' that is to be included on a Census Test to take place in May 2008. I am happy to say that Statistics Canada has been fairly responsive to our suggestions regarding how the question should be worded. They have agreed to remove wording from the question that stressed the confidentiality of the Census. References to 'personal information' have been replaced by 'your census responses' and references to personal information being 'made public' has been changed to indicate 'census responses and family history [will] be part of the historical record of Canada'. Information that Census responses would not be available until 92 years had passed will be emphasised by bolding.

Tentative wording of the question for the May 2008 Census Test is as follows:
    Only if you mark "YES" to this question will your census responses and family history be part of the historical record of Canada. A "yes" means your census responses will be available to family members and historical researchers, 92 years after the 2011 Census, in 2103.

    If you mark "NO" or leave the answer blank, your census responses will never be made available to future generations.

    Does this person agree to make his/her 2011 Census information available in 2103 (92 years after the census)?

    YES          NO
I would like to see the word 'Only' removed from the question as, in my view, inclusion of this word gives a negative connotation to the statement, and may encourage respondents to answer in a negative manner. I will however, reserve judgment on this until we see the result of the Census content test in May. This test will include 25,000 dwellings. Half of the questionairres will have the 2006 question and half the new question. The results will then be compared, with the 2006 question being the benchmark.

1916 Census transferred to Library and Archives Canada (LAC)

On 2 January 2008 Statistics Canada transferred schedules of the 1916 Census of Population for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to Library and Archives Canada. As the effective date for that Census was 1 June 1916 it is expected that shortly after 1 June 2008 these records should be made available for public access. What form that access will take is up in the air at the moment.

While attending the recent LAC Services Advisory Board in Ottawa I inquired about when scanned images would be available online. I was advised that scanning of these records had not been started yet, and it would not take place until after the end of the current fiscal year (April).

The 1916 Census, like that for 1906, was conducted only in the three Prairie Provinces. Unlike the 1906 Census, which mainly collected tombstone information, the 1916 census collected a wider variety of information, such as the following.
    Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1916

    Province, District, Sub-District, Enumeration District
    City, town, village, township or parish

    Schedule No. 1. Population by Name, Personal Description, etc.

    Residence and Personal Description: Name of each person in family, household or institution; Military Service; Place of Habitation (Township, Range, Meridian, Municipality); Relationship to head of family or household; Sex; Single, married, widowed, divorced or legally separated; Age at last birthday

    Nativity and Religion: Country or place of birth; Religion

    Citizenship: Year of immigration to Canada; Year of naturalization; Nationality

    Race and Language: Racial or tribual origin; Can speak English; Can speak French; Other language spoken as mother tongue

    Education: Can read; Can write

    Profession, Occupation or Means of Living: Chief occupation or trade; Employer or Employee/Worker or Working on own account; Where person is employed, as "on farm", "in cotton mill", "in foundry", in "dry goods store", "in saw-mill", etc.
Further information regarding access of these records will be posted as I become aware of it.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC)Services Advisory Board

The second meeting of the LAC Services Advisory Board took place in Ottawa on 7 March 2008. The first item on the agenda was completion of the discussions regarding manned hours of service that were the impetus for the formation of the Services Advisory Board. Board members were advised that LAC has agreed to provide staffed hours of service identical for 2nd floor (Reference Services) and 3rd floor (Consultation Services). The new hours, expected to be in place by 30 June 2008, will be as follows:
    9:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
    10:00 am to 5:00 pm Tuesday and Thursday.
There was some discussion regarding the staggered hours of service and LAC agreed to include a question regarding this on current surveys of LAC clients.

There was some discussion regarding the use of public workstation computers being used for access to inappropriate and possibly illegal material, i.e. pornography etc. Some Board members with public library experience stated that e-mail sent from anonymous work-stations is much more frequently a source of potential criminal activity than viewing material on the Web at public stations. After examining a number of options, Board members recommended that LAC install software that requires mandatory registration on public-access computers, rather than purchasing filtering software.

Members of the Board raised a number of issues and suggestions, including the following:
  • LAC should take a leadership position to undertake mass digitisation of historic Canadian newspapers, and if necessary to do so by establishing partnerships. Newspapers are used by all groups of researchers; genealogists, social, military, political, and economic historians.

  • LAC should examine their policy regarding acquisitions and should practice partnership rather than competitive acquisition. LAC needs to articulate its relationship with other archives and research libraries, to address access and acquisition. LAC needs to examine its mandate concerning services to other institutions, i.e. cancellation of Canadian Book Exchange Centre.

  • Some possible acquisitions suggested by Board members included Canadian Pacific employee records now housed in the corporate headquarters in Montreal, and the 1940 National Registration files still housed with Statistics Canada.

  • It was suggested that LAC needs to make a greater effort to digitize photographs, and that they should digitize historic departmental Annual Reports.
These represent only a part of the suggestions and concerns raised at the SAB meeting. It is expected that the full list will be posted to the LAC-SAB website, but at the time of this writing they are not yet available.

One further suggestion worthy of mention here has to do with the mandate of the SAB. It was suggested that the Services Advisory Board should evolve into being an LAC Advisory Board. Members of the SAB felt that they have an overall interest in the operation of Library and Archives Canada, not just in how their services are presented.

The next meeting of the LAC - SAB is expected to take place around next June. Location of the meeting has not yet been confirmed but we have been invited to meet in Montreal, hosted by the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BanQ).

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) considers partnership

Library and Archives Canada is considering establishing a partnership with a US based company - The Generations Network (TGN), parent company of Ancestry and Rootsweb. The objective of the partnership would be to further enhance the ability of each partner to make genealogical information available to researchers. LAC is interested in utilizing the expertise of TGN in high speed scanning and indexing of original historical documents, microfiche and microfilm copies.

Records selected for preparation and digitization, according to LAC's standards would include Canada's National Censuses for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891. Key terms of the records would be indexed to assist the searching for information by the general public, researchers and any other interested people.

Indices would be available on TGN and/or LAC websites. Scanned images would be hosted on both TGN and LAC websites. Images would be available without charge on the LAC website. Images would be 'watermarked' to clearly identify their source without harming their integrity.

Scope of the proposed project would include shared marketing activities and support to other institutions like archives and libraries wishing access to the websites of TGN and LAC (including; free access to

For further information visit the announcement on the LAC website.

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".

To view back issues of Gordon Watt's columns, visit Gordon's biography page where all of his archives articles are available.

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