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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 30 June 2010
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts Greetings All...

The following article contains vital information to all genealogists and historians. I view it important enough that it is the only article contained in this issue of 'Gordon Watts Reports'. Please read it carefully.

Federal Government Destroys Value of Future Census

On Saturday, 26 June 2010, the Canada Gazette Vol. 144, No. 26 published Orders in Council P.C. 2010-793 June 17, 2010 and P.C. 2010-793 June 17, 2010. These Orders in Council detailed the wording and questions to be asked in Canada's 2011 Census of Agriculture (P.C. 2010-793 June 17, 2010) and Census of Population (P.C. 2010-792 June 17, 2010). This Census is scheduled to take place on 10 May 2011. The Census of Agriculture contained 201 questions, the answers of which will never be made public because when Bill S-18 modified the Statistics Act in 2005 it specified public access to only the Census of Population. Statistics derived from the Census of Agriculture will only be released in aggregate form after compilation is completed.

The wording for the 2011 Census of Population contained only the eight questions included on the Short Form used for the 2006 Census. What was lacking was any questions for, or even any mention of the Long Form questionnaire that has been included with every Census taken since 1951. There was no explanation as to what had happened to the Long Form questionnaire - it was simply not there.

The first indication I had regarding this was a call from a Canwest News Service reporter on the morning of Tuesday 29 June 2010. Shannon Proudfoot asked if I was aware of changes that had been made in regards to the Census to be conducted 10 May 2011. She advised that the 2011 Census would consist of only the 8 short form questions asked on the previous Census, and that questions previously asked on the long form would no longer be included. Those long form questions would henceforth be included in a National Household Survey.

On accessing the home page of the Statistics Canada website I accessed a link relating to the 2011 Census Questionnaire. The resulting page stated, in part:
    "The information previously collected by the long-form census questionnaire will be collected as part of the new voluntary National Household Survey (NHS). This questionnaire will cover most of the same topics as the 2006 Census, but will exclude the question asking for consent to release personal census information after 92 years as this is only required by the census. The NHS questions will be made available by the end of July.

    The National Household Survey will be conducted within four weeks of the May 2011 Census and will include approximately 4.5 million households."
The National Household Survey will include questions on
  • demography
  • activity limitations
  • language
  • citzenship and immigration
  • ethnicity and religion
  • mobility
  • education
  • labour market
  • place of work
  • income
  • housing
The survey would not include all of those households receiving the Census, but would be sent to only 4.5 million households. This is, admittedly, a greater number than the 1 in 5 households that would have received the Long Form Census questionnaire. There is however, a major difference between the two. Information on the Long Form questionnaire would be released to the public 92 years after collection. Information from the National Household Survey will NEVER be made publicly available - at least not in nominal form. (Information from 'surveys' is normally made available in aggregate form shortly after compilation, as is aggregate information from Census.)

Genealogists and historians will understandably be extremely upset with these changes, as am I. There had been hopes that some of the information included on long form questionnaires might be transferred to the short form. For genealogists, information relating to makeup of the family, immigration and nationality, ethnicity and religion, is particularly important in determining their ancestry. Without that information, many researchers may never discover their ancestral country of origin. Information relating to the remaining topics covered by the NHS is important to future historians in documenting the history of our country.

I am particularly upset regarding the fact that there has been no apparent consultation with those communities most affected by this decision, nor was there any notice that such a move was being considered. I have reviewed the online reports regarding Statistics Canada's 2011 Census Consultations, and have found no mention that such a move was requested by those consulted, or that it had been suggested by those conducting the consultations.

The news article published by Shannon Proudfoot states Erik Waddell, a spokesman for Industry Minister Tony Clements, indicated the decision to change the Census came from the federal government and not from the Ministry or Statistics Canada. The opening statement of Order in Council P.C. 2010-792 June 17, 2010 however, would put the lie to this comment. The statement reads, in part, as follows: (emphasis mine)
    "Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Industry, pursuant to subsections 19(1) and 21(1) of the Statistics Act …… , hereby fixes May 2011 as the month in which a census of population shall be taken by Statistics Canada and prescribes the questions to be asked in the 2011 Census of Population, as set out in the annexed schedule.."
Erik Waddell, on behalf of Industry Minister Tony Clement, was further quoted as saying "This change was made to reasonably limit what many Canadians felt was an intrusion of their personal privacy." During our lengthy campaign to regain public access to Historical Census records, 92 years after collection, it was established that in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, with hundreds of years of records available, there had never been a single complaint regarding release of information from Census after a period of closure. To my knowledge there has still never been a single complaint regarding such a release. Why then, does anyone in the government of Canada feel it is necessary to withhold the information formerly contained in the Long Form questionnaires? No other government is known to have taken such measures, and none are known to be considering doing so.

It is my considered opinion that that this move is an underhanded attempt by the government to thwart the wishes of the many thousands of Canadians, and others, who lobbied long and hard to regain the public access to historic Census records that had been denied us by a policy decision of the former Chief Statistician. Apparently the hundreds of thousands of communications with Members of Parliament and Senators, and more than 75,000 signatures on petitions, have no meaning to the current government. This even though during our campaign the official position of the Conservative Party of Canada supported public access to Historical Census records.

The Census is the single most important documented information available to the historical and genealogical communities. It is the only source in which you find information regarding families instead of individuals. Through successive censuses, you can track the formation of the family, you can track when children are born, when children grow up and move away, and you can track patterns of migration. By removing the information contained in the Long Form questionnaire, the government is taking from us the greatest source of information for the history of the country. It is a huge change, one that will have disastrous consequences for future genealogists and historians, and one that genealogists and historians will have to protest.

In the coming week I will be composing a letter to my Member of Parliament, protesting the removal of the Long Form questionnaire, particularly when there has been no consultation or advance notice that such a move was being contemplated. I will also be putting together Access to Information requests seeking any and all information relating to the decision to remove Long Form information from the Census.

It is my hope that genealogy and family history societies, and their counterparts in the historical communities, will band together to let the government know, in no uncertain terms, just how unhappy we are with their actions in this matter.

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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