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Formerly branded as GlobalGazette.ca

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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 26 July 2010
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles



Gordon A. Watts

Topics in this column include:
  • Public backlash on Canadian government Census decision
  • Conflicting statements prompts resignation
  • Minister 'consulted' with MPs - numbers don't add up
  • My Access to Information request
  • Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to meet on Census issue


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


Public backlash on Canadian government Census decision

In my column published 30 June 2010 I reported that Canada's federal government had destroyed the value of future Censuses for genealogical and historical research. They had accomplished this by eliminating the long-form questionnaire from the 2011 and subsequent Censuses.

It is on the long-form questionnaire that future researchers would have been able to find information regarding citizenship, ethnic origin, place of birth, birthplace of parents, immigration status and period of immigration. Without such information being available on Census, many of our descendants will never be able to find where their ancestors originated.

Granted, in the past, the long-form questionnaire has only been available regarding one in five households in Canada, but that is far better than the alternative posed by the elimination of the long-form questionnaire.

The elimination of the long-form questionnaire was done quietly, with no notice or consultation with the many communities affected, simply by publication of an Order-in-Council in the Canada Gazette. There was no press release announcing this action. The first public notice was when CanWest News Service reporter Shannon Proudfoot wrote an article on 29 June 2010.

If the Conservative Cabinet had hoped to slip this issue through without receiving any backlash from the many communities it affects, the past three weeks will have been disappointing to them. Since the original article appeared, there have been dozens of media reports across the country, voicing objection to the elimination of the long-form Census questionnaire, including some from sources that surprised me.

Opposition to the elimination of long-form questionnaires has come from a broad spectrum of sources, including subject matter experts and professional bodies; businesses; business groups and Labour; NGOs; churches; municipal, city, and provincial governments; newspapers and media; educational organizations; academics, and think tanks. (See the "save the census coalition" website). Unfortunately, the attitude of the government on this issue appears to be "Don't confuse me with facts - we have made up our minds and those that don't like it can go to hell!" So much for representing the people that voted them into office!

Conflicting statements prompts resignation of Canada's Chief Statistician


Munir Sheikh
Former Chief Statistician of Canada
Media reports in the past few weeks have reported conflicting comments regarding the issue - many attributed to Industry Minister Tony Clement. Initial reports from his office indicated first that this action was taken because of 'privacy concerns'. Shortly after, the emphasis was on the 'intrusive' and coercive' nature of the questions asked - Canadians should not have to respond to the questions under penalty of fines or imprisonment. This last appears to be what the government is sticking to now. Statements from Minister Clement attributing recommendation and approval of the change to Statistics Canada and Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh led to the resignation of Mr. Sheikh on Wednesday 21 July 2010. In tendering his resignation, Mr. Sheikh made the following statement:
    "I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. It cannot. Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the prime minister."
We applaud the integrity of Mr. Sheikh for having the courage of his convictions, and taking this stand. It could not have been an easy decision for him to make.

Minister 'consulted' with MPs - numbers don't add up


Tony Clement
Minister of Industry
(Conservative)
In response to complaints that there had been no notice or consultations with the many communities most affected by this decision, Minister Clement stated that he had spoken with "a number of MPs" who reported complaints from (unnamed) constituents regarding the intrusive and coercive nature of the Census. Minister Clement's predecessor, MP Maxime Bernier claimed to have been inundated with privacy complaints over a five-or-six-week period when the 2006 Census was being collected. He supposedly received "an average of 1,000 e-mails a day" with such complaints.

Since the Post-1901 Census campaign began in 1998, it has been my experience that any correspondence dealing with Census issues, received by Industry Canada, was immediately forwarded to Statistics Canada. Correspondence re: Census issues received by MPs or Senators were usually copied or forwarded to Statistics Canada as well. On 19 July 2010 I sent the following question to Statistics Canada:
    "Can you kindly advise, during the period in question (i.e. the period when the 2006 Census was conducted), specifically how many complaints relating to Census were received by Statistics Canada, either directly, or redirected from the Office of the Minister of Industry. I would appreciate knowing also, in general terms, the nature of any such complaints received."
I received the following answer:
    "Statistics Canada received 22 letters and emails from respondents concerned about the intrusiveness of the census. This does not mean that they necessarily filed an official complaint with the Privacy Commissioner. Many of these concerns were resolved in discussion with the respondent by explaining how the data are used."
There seems to be some discrepancies between the many thousands of complaints reportedly received by Maxime Bernier, and those reported by Statistics Canada. If, in fact, Bernier did receive those thousands of complaints, why were they not forwarded to Statistics Canada, or to the office of the Privacy Commissioner, who reported only three complaints in the past decade? One might wonder also, if those thousands of complaints were received during the collection of the Census in 2006, how many has he, or Minister Clement, received since then?

My Access to Information request

In order to resolve, at least in my own mind, the discrepancies regarding the reported numbers of complaints I have submitted the following Access to Information request to the Office of the Minister of Industry.
    22 July 2010

    Industry Canada
    Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator
    West Tower
    235 Queen Street, 5th Floor
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0H5

    Dear Sir or Ms.

    On 26 June 2010, the Government of Canada, through an Order in Council published in the Canada Gazette, eliminated the long-form questionnaire for the 2011 and future Censuses. This was done with no prior notice or consultation with the communities most affected by this unprecedented decision.

    Since then, a number of statements attributed to coming from the office of the Minister of Industry have been reported in the media. These statements include the following:

    • "This change was made to reasonably limit what many Canadians felt was an intrusion of their personal privacy."


    • "… an unspecified number of Canadians [have] complained about the coercive and intrusive nature of the process."


    • "Every MP has had complaints like that ……"


    • "The consultation process involved speaking to MPs who'd heard from constituents ….."


    In relation to the elimination from Census of the long-form questionnaire, and the comments above, I submit the following Access to Information request.

    In regards to the period of collection of the 2006 Census of Canada I wish to know the following:

    • Specifically: How many complaints, in total, regarding the collection of Census did the office of the Minister of Industry receive?
    • Specifically: How many of such complaints were related to the use by Statistics Canada of software purchased/leased from US based Lockheed-Martin?

    • Specifically: How many of such complaints were concerned with 'intrusiveness of the questions asked?

    • Specifically: How many of such complaints were concerned with the 'compulsory' or 'coercive' nature of the questions asked?

    • Specifically: How many of such complaints were concerned with 'personal privacy' of respondents to Census?

    • Specifically: How many of such complaints were forwarded to Statistics Canada?


    In regards to the period from 1 January 2007 to 1 June 2010, I would seek answers to the same questions as for the period of collection of the 2006 Census above.

    In regards to the 26 June 2010 publication of the Order in Council in the Canada Gazette, wherein it became known that the long-form Census questionnaire would not be included in the 2011 and later Censuses, and in response to the various comments issued through the Office of the Minister of Industry since that time, I wish to know the following:

    • Specifically: Prior to 26 June 2010, from how many Members of Parliament did the Office of the Minister of Industry receive complaints relating to the purchase of Census software from US based Lockheed-Martin? In the aggregate, how many such complaints in total were received by those Members of Parliament?


    • Specifically: Prior to 26 June 2010, from how many Members of Parliament did the Office of the Minister of Industry receive complaints relating to "compulsory" and/or "coercive" aspects of Census? In the aggregate, how many such complaints in total were received by those Members of Parliament?


    • Specifically: Prior to 26 June 2010, from how many Members of Parliament did the Office of the Minister of Industry receive complaints relating to 'privacy concerns' and Census? In the aggregate, how many such complaints in total were received by those Members of Parliament?


    • Specifically: In total, how many such complaints were received from the aforementioned Members of Parliament


    I look forward to your response at your earliest possible convenience. I have enclosed the required check in the amount of $5.00 payable to the Receiver General of Canada.

    Thank you.

    Gordon A. Watts
    Co-chair, Canada Census Committee
Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to meet on Census issue.

As a result of the hundreds of complaints received on this issue, a meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has been called for Tuesday, 27 July 2010 at 9:00 AM Ottawa time. It has been allotted 7 hours and 30 minutes. Indications are that the proceedings will be televised. The webcast can be accessed here.

Click on the link for "INDU Meeting No. 29"


















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