Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2011 Census of Canada Gone Wrong

There have been recent reports of genealogists being outraged because the "long" form of the 2011 Canadian Census will not be made publicly available in 92 years as has been the practise with past census information. The argument of course is that this action "slams the door" shut to future generations of genealogists who will be unable to access important information about their families. Perhaps, but I see a greater issue.

On June 17, 2010, the government of Canada approved an Order-in-Council (OIC) under the Statistics Act, which was published, as is required, in the Canadian Gazette on June 26th. An OIC is typically a change or amendment to a regulation under an existing law - in this case the Statistics Act. The OIC that was approved established an agricultural census and a population census to take place in May 2011. The OIC also prescribes the information to be collected. What makes 2011 unique is that Statistics Canada, the arm of the government responsible for census taking, will be completing a sampling of households that will be requested to complete a "long" form of the population census questionnaire, which asks for much more detailed information. It are these "long" forms and the information they contain that will not be released.

The shorter population census form that everyone is to complete will require the submission of information that we are used to seeing in census returns: address, name of household head, names of all household occupants and their relationship to the head along with their sex, date of birth, age, marital status, and first language. This information will be available for future generations but only if the person completing the 2011 census form indicates on the form gives consent to release the information. According to a published report in the Vancouver Sun, "This change was made to reasonably limit what many Canadians felt was an intrusion of their personal privacy," said Erik Waddell, a spokesman for Industry Minister Tony Clement (Statistics Canada falls under the purview of Industry Canada). "

I have yet to meet a single person who genuinely believes that the release of census information in 92 years constitutes an intrusion of their personal privacy. By comparison, the US census information is released after 72 years. I can't imagine what evil purpose someone might use the information for - could they use my date of birth to fraudulently misrepresent themselves as me - at the age of 148? I'm not aware of anyone, anywhere using census information in a malevolent manner. Rather, the real risk with the census is found in those who misrepresent themselves through things like email fraud and 'phishing'. If a 'fraudster' sent an email to everyone in Canada posing as a Statistics Canada representative and asking for social insurance numbers and/or banking information and even if only one percent of all the Canadians replied and provided their information, there would be about 340,000 victims. Those who would commit fraud are not going to wait many decades when instant gratification can be attained.

So why is the release of this information optional? That is really the larger question that needs to be addressed without hiding behind the dark and fearful veil of privacy concerns.


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