House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was family.

Topics

The House resumed from March 2 consideration of the motion.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak in support of Motion No. 160 presented by my colleague, the chief critic for national revenue, the Canadian Alliance member for Calgary Southeast. The motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take all necessary steps to release the 1911 census records once they have been deposited in the National Archives in 2003.

The purpose of the motion is to release post-1901 census data to the general public.

The motion has received a broad base of support from various members of the House, not just Canadian Alliance members. In addition, many MPs have received letters of concern from genealogists in their constituencies.

In Surrey Central I have received letters asking for the release of post-1901 census records. For example, Don Ellis of Surrey Central has been writing to me since I was elected. He points out that the Access to Information Act protects the census information from being abused while it allows for the benefits of the release of this information.

Mr. Ellis stated in his letter:

Previous census records have been released, and they have been of invaluable assistance to those of us researching our ancestry. We have long awaited the release of the 1911 census, and of future records, to give us additional information.

Apparently, the Privacy Act is being given as the reason for withholding these records. This is ridiculous in view of the freedom of information act.

Another constituent wrote to me, who said:

I have recently been made aware that our government has placed a closure on all future census records and that the 1901 census will be the last one available for public research. I would like to voice my objection to this unfortunate decision.

As an amateur genealogist and the family historian I have made extensive use of census records both Canadian and British and cannot overstate the value of this source in establishing family relationships. They are one of genealogy's most valuable resources and should not be allowed to be permanently closed.

Since the United States has made available the 1920 census and is in the process of preparing the 1930 census for release I would like to know the rationale behind Statistics Canada's decision. I believe the former ninety year closure to be more than adequate to protect the privacy of any individual.

Another constituent, Robert Paulin, has been generous with his information and has encouraged the official opposition to take action to release these records that are almost a century old.

Strong families make strong communities. Stronger communities make stronger nations. The government refrains from doing anything and everything that makes families strong, whether it is the definition of marriage or not reducing taxes, which creates a tremendous burden on family members.

Many years ago only one member of the family worked. Now both parents work, but still they are saving less. All of these constraints are weakening the family institution.

The institution of the family is important and the government needs to do everything it can to strengthen it.

Some of the letters and representations I have received are from people in the business of researching family trees. There is a significant demand for these services. The withholding of the census data threatens these jobs and the firms conducting this research, and deprives the beneficiaries of important sentimental information.

In my own family, my wife's great grandfather died in Canada, but we are unable to learn of his whereabouts since the census information has not been released.

Census data is important information for historical research, especially for those researching family history. Without releasing the information contained in the 1911 census this research is seriously hampered.

Finally, it should be noted that the vast majority of those who participated in the census have passed on and, as such, the potential for breach of privacy is minimal.

Up to and including the 1901 census in Canada census records were transferred to the National Archives and were subsequently made available to the public 92 years after their collection. This was possible because clauses in the Privacy Act allowed for the subtraction of certain pieces of information and their release to the National Archives, subject to certain aspects of the Privacy Act.

In 1906 Sir Wilfrid Laurier, by order in council, legislated regulations that brought about an imposed secrecy on enumerators and other officers of the Census and Statistics Office. These regulations refer to chapter 68 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1906, an act respecting the census and statistics.

Within this ruling section 26 of the regulations stated that the compilation of census data could only be used for statistical purposes. By 1918 this regulation was codified, providing that no one could view the information without the express consent of the individual. Unfortunately, no time limit was given and, combined with a legal opinion of the justice department of 1985, it was interpreted that the information had to remain secret forever.

Some historians believe that the original 1906 and 1918 provisions had to do with a prevailing concern that the census data could be used for taxation purposes or military service. It is doubtful that the prevailing concern of the time was that historians would use the data some 100 years later.

In a most recent report, the privacy commissioner, Bruce Phillips, warned the industry minister that the release of census data could seriously hamper the accuracy of future census and renege on a previous commitment to secrecy. The industry minister has nonetheless asked Statistics Canada to undertake a study of options to amend the legislation in this regard by either retroactively changing the confidentiality provisions from 1911 onward or by amending the legislation for censuses taken from 2001 onward.

If Canada were to place its census data under lock and key forever it would sadly be far out of step with many other western nations. For example, in the United States census data is released after 72 years and an individual can retrieve his or her own data at any time. In Australia census data is released after 100 years. In France census data is released after 100 years. In Denmark census data is released after 65 years, and in the United Kingdom efforts are being made to release data after 100 years. It is now two years later. We are still waiting for something to be done by the government.

In conclusion, the panel will report to the minister by the end of May 2000. Hopefully the motion we are debating today will spur the minister to take action.

By the way, I had written earlier to the industry minister. To be fair, his original response to me was on the government's line, that they could not release the information. I wrote back to him and the chief statistician responded, admitting that the minister directed him to develop options for changing the legislation.

It appeared that the minister was going to pay some attention to the matter in order to release this information, which was positive news until we realized that he had struck a panel to study the matter. We urge the government to release this important information so that we can strengthen the institution of family and thereby strengthen our nation.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Madam Speaker, many historians, genealogists and researchers had expected that the 1911 census records would be publicly available in 2003, 92 years after the taking of the census. They were dismayed to find out that this was not to be the case.

Canada's censuses up to and including 1901 were taken on the acts of parliament which did not contain a specific confidentiality provision having the force of law. As a result census records up to and including the 1901 census have been transferred to the national archives and are now available for public access. However, starting with the 1906 census, access to individual census records is explicitly prohibited by law.

There seems to be a general perception that Statistics Canada has taken an arbitrary position on the matter and is simply refusing to release the 1911 census records. This is certainly not the case. In fact, the agency is respecting the legislation for which censuses have been taken since 1906. Starting in 1906, the legislation giving authority to collect census information contains statutory confidentiality provisions. These provisions are such that only the person named in the record may have access to his or her own information.

There is also a time limitation on this access. Even when the person is deceased, the provisions are still in effect. As a result, Statistics Canada cannot make public census records taken under the authority of the 1906 and all subsequent statistics acts without breaching the Statistics Act.

Statistics Canada continues to hold all individual returns of census questionnaires collected between 1906 and 1991. These records are on microfilm and extracts are made available only to individual respondents who need to confirm birth dates for pension purposes, passports, et cetera.

I would like to make the point that information from the current census records can be released only when written consent of the person named in the record or the person's legal representative has been provided.

Also Statistics Canada has never considered the destruction of the 1906 and later census records. These records have been transferred to microfilm and the original paper questionnaires have been destroyed in accordance with approvals given by the National Archives of Canada.

We all agree that historians, genealogists and researchers have legitimate reasons for wanting access to historical census records. We also have to recognize and respect the right to privacy of individual Canadians and their ancestors. While there is undeniably great value attached to nominative historical census records, this is where an important principle of privacy protection comes into play.

The House is being asked to retroactively alter the conditions under which information was provided by Canadians. Is this right? The privacy commissioner strongly opposes a retroactive amendment to the Statistics Act which would allow the transfer of individually identifiable census records to the National Archives of Canada for archival and access purposes.

The commissioner is of the view that allowing third party access to census records for such purposes constitutes a use that is inconsistent with the guarantee of confidentiality that Statistics Canada gave to Canadians when collecting their personal information. He is also of the view that it constitutes a violation of fundamental privacy principles requiring that the personal information be used only for the purpose for which it was collected.

On the other hand, many historians and archivists view Canada's census as a national treasure that must be preserved. They argue that the census should be available after a reasonable period of time in order to conduct research which will shed light on the personal and community histories of Canadians.

Another argument often used to access Canadian census records is that census records in the United States and the United Kingdom are publicly accessible. I would like to remind my colleagues that this is an issue of different legislation and perhaps of culture when it comes to the taking of a census.

While there is undeniably great value attached to historical census records, there is also great value attached to the aggregate information that can be produced from current and future censuses. Much of this value is contained in various pieces of legislation. For example, population counts play a vital role in determining the amount and allocation of federal-provincial transfer payments for Canada health and social transfers, equalization and territorial formula financing. These payments were established at $39 billion in 2000-01 and the census is required to allocate them.

Statistics Canada feels that the most important factor contributing to respondent co-operation is the unconditional guarantee given to respondents that the information they supply will be protected. Canada, for almost 100 years, has been able to unconditionally guarantee the confidentiality of the information supplied in the census.

Changes to the commitments made to respondents in the past could have a negative impact on the level of co-operation given to future censuses and surveys. A substantial decrease in such co-operation could jeopardize Statistics Canada's ability to carry out its national mandate of producing reliable and timely information.

The minister recognizes the importance of historical research but also must take into account the privacy concerns of Canadians. This is why he has created the expert panel on access to historical census records. This panel of eminent Canadians will look at the issues and provide an approach which would balance the need to protect personal privacy with the demands of genealogists and historians for access to historical census records.

The five member panel, which is chaired by Dr. Richard Van Loon, president of Carleton University, has been asked to make recommendations to the minister by May 31, 2000. The panel has been provided with all relevant documents and information on this matter. The panel is reviewing this information and is meeting with key stakeholders to seek their views.

In my view the House should wait for the expert panel on access to historical census records to make its recommendations before voting on this issue.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Compton—Stanstead, QC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to address the motion raised by the member for Calgary Southeast with respect to the release of the post-1901 census records.

In recent months, a number of genealogists and historians have articulated their collective disappointment that the 1911 census records will not be available for review in the public domain in the year 2003. These individuals had previously expected the 1911 census records to be made available for research purposes in this particular year because census records have been, up to this point, accessible to the public after 92 years.

However, censuses administered after 1901 fall subject to the Statistics Act that explicitly prohibits the release of all census records. This prohibition does not allow anyone to access census records for any reason; the only exception is that an individual may access his or her own personal records—but that is the only current exception.

An individual may not access the census records of anyone else, not even those belonging to his or her immediate family members, nor even those records belonging to members of his ancestral family tree.

The dilemma here is quite clear. And yet, it is quite difficult to resolve. We have two competing interests that present a difficult case for the House. On the one hand, we have the reality of statutory integrity, upon which our nation is founded and, on the other, the practical idealism presented to us by historical curiosity.

Many have argued that the release of census records is crucial to furthering the knowledge Canadians hold of their past, of their communities, of their families, and of themselves.

Access to census records is what enables individuals, scholars, researchers, and historians alike to trace their respective histories and to answer questions about their past: from questions as simple as when exactly one's ancestry arrived in Canada, to questions as nationally significant as the face of the brave men who fought and defended Canada in the first World War. Answering these questions can indeed teach Canadians a lot about themselves and about their origins.

In fact, Canadian historians have called upon these records to answer these and countless other questions which offer great insights into our history as a people. As such, the availability of census returns up to 1901 has been a tremendous resource for researchers in search of information with respect to housing, health, income, and general social conditions of the day. But, again, researchers have been able to conduct their invaluable research based upon the laws in place before 1906 which authorized the release of these census records 92 years after they were taken.

For the first time, census data will not be available to Canadians come the year 2003, the year during which census data from 1911 would have been made available in the National Archives for public reference.

Now, however, those who argue that the census records should be released to the public argue that respect for statutory integrity and privacy is important. In 1906, when the change was made that all future censuses would be kept confidential and rendered forever inaccessible, legislators made a commitment to Canadians. This commitment was that Canadians' responses to census questions would not be divulged to anyone.

The federal government currently requires Canadian residents to answer increasingly intrusive and intimate questions on its censuses. These questions included proddings into Canadians' marital status, physical characteristics, nationality, ethnic origin, wages earned, insurance held, educational attainment, and also proddings into respondents' infirmities and sicknesses.

Clearly, the government census is not an everyday survey or questionnaire—it is very involved and it can also make for quite a personal experience. In fact, census data are now collected every five years, instead of every ten, as they once were.

Most Canadians will readily answer these questions and willingly provide the federal government with the information it requests. Others will be more hesitant to divulge their personal information. Still, because the federal government requires Canadians to do so under fear of fine or imprisonment, everyone ends of answering all the questions.

Why? Why do they answer these intrusive questions? What puts their minds at ease in divulging this information? It is no more than the federal government's unqualified guarantee of confidentiality that allows Canadians to answer these very personal questions.

This guarantee is what convinced Canadians to divulge so much of themselves dating back to 1911, the guarantee offered by the federal government through the Statistics Act, and that remains the pledge the government has made to Canadians regarding their privacy. Would Canadians so willingly and accurately provide this information otherwise?

Here is our dilemma. The Laurier government promised that the information collected in the census after 1901 would remain confidential. The interesting part is no one is sure why this promise was made. Archival records indicate that the confidentiality provision was designed to reassure citizens that census enumerators would not pass along the information to tax collectors or military conscription personnel. Archival records or not, it remains unclear why these privacy provisions are in existence.

It is true that our world has changed dramatically since 1901. We have cultural values. While today we place the utmost importance on personal issues, back then according to the information, the reason for keeping census records forever confidential was the fear that information would be leaked to tax collectors and military personnel, not because they wanted to keep the information confidential for eternity. Canadians' concerns in 1906 were short term, to keep the information away from the taxman and from the military. We cannot be certain the goal was to keep information from historians.

It is of the utmost importance that we do not bar Canadians access to their history. In a relatively young country such as ours, we must do everything we can to promote and encourage our history and heritage. In so doing we perpetuate and strengthen Canadian sovereignty.

I appreciate the concern for statutory integrity and privacy interests. However, the releasing of census records after 92 years would not pose an infringement on statutory integrity nor be an invasion of privacy. After 92 years those who completed the census as adults are likely to be deceased, at which point the concern for privacy is less important.

Furthermore, Canadians today have been quite vocal in their support for releasing census records for research purposes. Given the overwhelming support for the release of records, we in the House cannot ignore the call of Canadians. This is an instance where the sensibilities of what Canadians feel is right and justifiable must be taken into account. If Canadians of today do not see the release of census records as an infringement on the privacy rights of Canadians of yesterday, then we as legislators have a duty to listen to their collective voice.

If Canadians today wish to retain access to census records 92 years after a census has been administered, then given the precedence set in the period leading up to 1911, we should accommodate them. In doing so we would be accommodating ourselves as well. Research into our history as a people and as a nation may only be furthered by allowing access to these invaluable records.

I offer my support for the motion brought forward by the member for Calgary Southeast.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, I am happy to speak to Motion No. 160. I congratulate my colleague for bringing the motion forward.

A very interesting thing is happening in current society. In the field of genealogy today people are currently looking at the past.

I recently heard a lecture given by Steve Dotto. I believe he has a regular program on CBC where he talks about the Internet, computers and so on. He said that there has been a tremendous growth in the interest in genealogy in the country and one reason is that the Internet is such a good tool. He said if we want to learn all of the various activities, the best training device and lesson plan we could come up with particularly if we had a natural interest in the subject would be to pursue the genealogy of our own families. All the lessons we need in order to learn how to effectively use the Internet would come through that field of endeavour and study.

It is interesting that at the very time there is this burgeoning field in society current day families are looking more and more at their roots and their past. We are looking at our institutions with renewed enthusiasm. Whether it is the military, the RCMP, the church or other important institutions in society, there is a renewed interest in all of them. We see it on November 11 with the increasing turnout of people at Remembrance Day ceremonies.

At the very time when all this renewed interest is happening we have run into a brick wall potentially on the release of census data. This data is from the 1911 census. The 1901 census data was available in 1993. The major period of migration to Canada was between the start of the 20th century and the beginning of World War I in 1914. There are millions of Canadians whose first ancestors arrived in Canada during that period. We must take that into account.

There was an expectation on the part of virtually everyone that the data was going to be available in 2003. Some minds figured out that is not going to happen. It all changed because of a regulation in 1906. Although it is largely speculative, we know that they were not thinking about what the circumstances would be 90 or 100 years down the road. Logic dictates that the reason the release of census data collected was pre-empted at that time had to do with everyday concerns about conscription, what the military or the taxman might do with the data for people who completed the information.

That is the way the regulations read at the time. Looking back on it we know in current terms if we use the natural lifespan of people that a 90 or a 100 year release of census data addresses privacy concerns.

What do some other western democracies do with their census data? It is important to make a comparison. The U.S. releases its data after 72 years; Australia, 100; France, 100; Denmark, 65; and in the U.K. efforts are under way to release the information after 100 years. There has been some concern about retroactive alteration of confidentiality requirements and the whole subject of a privacy guarantee that was made when the data was collected.

I cannot think of a single way individuals will be negatively impacted by releasing data 90 or 100 years later. Therefore I cannot think of a single way this will negatively impact participation by the population at large in current census collection. It will put us in step with other western democracies.

The major point I am trying to make is that the motion is very worthy of our support to ensure that the 1911 census data is released in 2003. For the 1921 census and others in the future there is lots of time to come up with a very structured response to how the data will be released. In the meantime it is important to address the very specific issue on the 1911 census.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate. I was not planning to do so but I have been listening to the debate and my own private poll would indicate the people with whom I have spoken recognize there was a law passed in 1911 and that not many people today understand why the law came into effect. Now there is an expert panel which has been appointed by the industry minister to try to resolve this by the end of next month.

I intend to be very brief in my remarks. I concur with the motion that is before the House this morning. I would hope that the expert panel chaired by the president of Carleton University would pay attention to what has been said here in debate by the previous speakers on this topic and those who intend to take part in it.

If I may just interject a personal note, my uncle wrote a relatively readable book on the history of his mother's family. They emigrated to Canada from the area of Virginia around 1776 because they supported the king in the war of the colonies. My uncle's book traced the history since then. I am sure he did that based on many of the tables that were available to him through the archives and other areas. Now we are told that beginning with 1911 the records are not available because a law of which nobody seems to know the history says the records will be sealed in perpetuity.

Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips, a former well-known television newsman, seems to have sided solely with privacy that would protect people into the grave and beyond. For the life of me I cannot understand why after 92 or 100 years there would be a real problem. If there are people or families who are concerned about this it would be interesting to hear them speak out on the topic but we certainly are not aware of them to the very best of my knowledge.

Mr. Phillips the Privacy Commissioner has said “People who give information to the government under penalty of law and an unqualified promise of confidentiality are entitled to expect that that trust will be honoured”. Nobody would disagree with that but the question must be asked for how long, for 92 or 100 years? At what point do these competing demands take effect and the interests of amateur historians, genealogists and researchers come to the fore?

The previous speaker mentioned the migration and immigration to western Canada that took part in the early years of this century. The prairies were filled out at that time and people want to know what happened in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba as well as the other provinces and territories.

I want to make it clear, and I am sure there will be differences of opinion in all caucuses on this, that this is a private member's motion on which it is everyone's right to vote. I will support the motion when we vote on it. At the same time I will be watching with interest to see what the committee of experts decides when it reports to the industry minister on May 31. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out why we would not want to pass on information about our ancestors and allow it to be studied by those who are alive now as opposed to protecting those who have been deceased for some time.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in the House today to speak about this very important issue. I want to say at the outset that I have had a number of calls from constituents with respect to this matter.

It is a matter of great importance, not only from a genealogical point of view but also from an historic point of view. It is something that we on the government side have indicated we take seriously and want to take a very strong, fast and hard look at all the options with respect to where we should go on this all important matter.

I remind my colleagues in the House that the transfer of census records to the national archives for public access is a very complex issue. Although historians, genealogists and researchers have legitimate reasons for wanting access to historical census records, we have to balance that and at least weigh in the respect and the right to privacy for individual Canadians and their ancestors.

It is a balancing act and one on which we have to give careful thought in this very important and delicate matter. I want to point out that the minister and the government have gone on record as doing precisely that.

The motion before us, while perhaps of some interest to some people, is really premature based on the fact that our minister and our government have moved in this area. We are taking a look at exploring and reviewing the options. In so doing, it is important to note that the minister has created an expert panel of eminent Canadians to provide independent insight into this very important issue, where expert advice on legalities and privacy in archival matters are explored and the implications looked into in a meaningful way which will bring credibility to the process.

The five member panel is comprised of: Dr. Richard Van Loon, who is president of Carleton University with a long history, including with the federal government; Chad Gaffield, director at the institute for Canadian studies and professor of history at the University of Ottawa; the Honourable Gérard La Forest, a retired supreme court justice; the Honourable Lorna Marsden, president and vice-chancellor at York University and former president of my alma mater Wilfrid Laurier University; and John McCamus, president of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto.

The members of the panel were chosen with great care and are highly regarded Canadians who have a great deal of insight into these matters. They were appointed on the basis of individual merit for their expertise and their long term interest in historical research and privacy issues.

The minister has asked the panel to recommend by May 31 of this year an approach that balances the need to protect personal privacy with the demand of genealogists, historians and others who want access to historical census records.

Access to individual census records for all censuses starting with the 1906 census is explicitly prohibited by law while census records up to and including the 1901 census are publicly available through the National Archives. These records are in a public domain because the censuses up to and including the 1901 census were conducted under legislation that did not contain a specific confidentiality provision having the force of law. However, access to individual census records for all censuses starting the the 1906 census is explicitly prohibited by law.

Starting in 1906 and for all subsequent censuses thereafter, the legislation giving the authority to collect census information containing statutory confidentiality provisions was in place. These provisions are such that only the person named in the record may have access to his or her own information.

There is also no time limitation on this access. Even when the person is deceased, the provisions are still in effect. As a result, Statistics Canada, without breaching the Statistics Act, cannot, according to law, make public the census records taken under the authority of the 1906 and all subsequent Statistics Acts.

This has of course—and it is apparent as a result of the correspondence certainly that I get and other members of parliament—dismayed many genealogists and researchers who had expected that the 1911 census and the records would be publicly available in 2003, 92 years after the taking of that census. They argue, and some would say rightly so, that the census should be available after a reasonable period of time in order to conduct research that historians, genealogists and others like to do, which would shed light on the personal and community history of Canadians across the country. They would like to see a change in the Statistics Act which would confirm that census records would be available after 92 years.

There may be a perception that Statistics Canada has taken an arbitrary position in this matter and is circumventing regulations under the Privacy Act. That is certainly not the case. The agency is respecting the legislation under which censuses have been taken since 1906. It is after all the law.

As members of the House are aware, the Statistics Act, like any law, can be amended. While there is undeniably great value attached to nominative historical census records, this is where an important principle of privacy protection comes into play. Is it right to alter retroactively the conditions under which information was collected by Canadians and provided by them? It is a question that we need to look at and grapple with.

The privacy commissioner, Mr. Bruce Phillips, says no. He strongly opposes a retroactive amendment to the Statistics Act which would alter and allow the transfer of individually identifiable census records collected during past censuses, 1906 to 1991 to be precise, to the National Archives of Canada for archival and access purposes.

While there is undeniably great value attached to historic census records, there is also great value attached to the aggregate information that can be produced from current and future censuses as well. That information is and will be used for a multiplicity of purposes, and as genealogists and historians know, that is very important.

Changes to the commitments made to respondents in the past could have a negative impact on the level of co-operation given to future censuses and surveys. A substantial decrease in such co-operation could seriously jeopardize Statistics Canada and its ability to carry out its national mandate of producing reliable, timely information on which many users depend. It is very accurate and it is known throughout the world as being a good model, which many countries copy.

Census information is used for a multiplicity of purposes, as I have noted. For example, population counts play a vital role in determining the amount and the allocation of federal-provincial transfer payments for the Canada health and social transfers, equalization and territorial formula financing. These payments were estimated at $39 billion in the year 2000-01 and the census is required to allocate them.

The census also provides comprehensive information for analysis of the social and economic issues of concerns to all Canadians. These issues include education, training, language use, immigration, multiculturalism, income support, child and elder care, housing programs and many other issues, all of which are relied upon as a result of the information gathered.

Before I conclude I want to remind my colleagues that census information is a fundamental pillar of our democratic system. We have a great system. We need to promote it. We need to protect it. We need to ensure that it survives into the 21st century. That is our job, not only as parliamentarians but also as Canadians.

The data from the census is one that measures indicators that electors use to evaluate the performance of their government. This must never be taken lightly. I know that members in the House do not.

With the minister having appointed the panel and the government having recommended that we proceed, it is my position that we should now go forward and hear what that panel of experts has to say. After that, we will be in a far better position to make subsequent decisions that affect Canadians.

I recommend that we let the process take its course. We should listen to those best suited to give us that good advice and proceed accordingly.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Scarborough Centre
Ontario

Liberal

John Cannis Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this debate.

I thank all my Liberal colleagues who have participated in the debate. I especially want to thank the hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington for not only acknowledging the effort of the member of the Canadian Alliance but for very clearly pointing out the efforts the government has undertaken with respect to this issue.

This is an important issue. Many Canadians have asked us about the census and we have an obligation to respond to their concerns. However, I, too, want to take this opportunity to re-emphasize to Canadians exactly what is happening.

With the greatest of respect to the hon. member for Calgary Southeast, I must say that as much as his motion makes a lot of sense, the government and the Minister of Industry have already taken the initiative, as was so eloquently pointed out by my Liberal colleague, to put a panel together to look at this most important issue.

I do compliment the effort by the hon. member for Calgary Southeast, but it is premature. We owe it to each and every Canadian to wait until the end of May when the panel will report back with its findings and tells us “This is what we have done. This is the information we have gathered. This is our opinion and this is our view”. I am confident that at that time, not only the Minister of Industry, who is the minister responsible for Statistics Canada, but all of us in the House will make that decision on which direction to go in.

The date the panel will report back is May 31, 2000. Canadians who want to maintain the protection of personal information and those who would like to examine personal information or communities, historically speaking, will have the opportunity at the appropriate time to participate.

My Liberal colleague talked about the members of the panel, who are prominent Canadians. I will take this opportunity to tell Canadians who they are so they can be assured that the people looking into this most important issue are indeed people who are well recognized and well respected and have the expertise and the knowledge to face this most important issue.

The five member panel is chaired by Dr. Richard Van Loon, president of Carleton University. The other members are Chad Gaffield, director, institute of Canadian studies and professor of history, University of Ottawa; the Hon. Gérard La Forest, retired supreme court judge; the Hon. Lorna Marsden, president and vice-chancellor, York University; and John McCamus, professor of law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University.

These prominent Canadians reflect how seriously the government is taking this issue. These individuals will do what is right. When they come to the government and the minister with their recommendations, I assure all the people who are interested in this important issue that we will take it as seriously as the hon. member for Calgary Southeast has in bringing forth this motion.

The panel has been provided with all relevant documents and information so that it can do a proper job. The panel is reviewing this information and is meeting with key stakeholders to seek their views. It will not only be these five members doing the work. They will be reaching out to various members in various communities right across Canada to make sure that the data is transparent and well received. The panel's recommendations will be the basis for serious review and immediate follow-up by the government.

Although historians, genealogists and researchers are upset that the 1906 and subsequent census records will not be accessible to the public and are asking that the legislation be amended, the privacy commissioner strongly opposes a retroactive amendment to the Statistics Canada Act which would provide access to individually identifiable census records collected in past censuses.

This is a complicated issue. I want to detail what historical census records are available to the public at the present time. All microfilm records of the 1901 and earlier censuses are currently available to the public and are under the control of the National Archives of Canada. I want the people of Canada to know that because there is a perception that everything is locked away and hidden and not available to Canadians. That is simply not the case.

People ask where historical census records are available. All microfilm records of censuses taken in 1901 and earlier are currently available to the public and are under the control of the National Archives. Provincial archives in many regional libraries have also acquired copies of the same records. Local libraries can request census microfilms through interlibrary exchange programs.

Why are the earlier census records available to the public and not later ones? Many Canadians have been asking this question and I would like to take a few moments to explain.

The earlier censuses were conducted under various census acts which did not contain the same type of confidentiality provisions that are a fundamental part of Statistics Canada legislation today. Consequently, it was not until the passing of the Privacy Act in 1983 that there was some legislative authority governing these 1901 and earlier records. Under the Privacy Act information under the control of the National Archives can be placed in the public domain in cases where the information was obtained through a census or survey 92 years ago.

This is an issue which the average Canadian often does not understand. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to outline to Canadians exactly what this issue is about so that they can feel comfortable that this government, previous governments or future governments do not have a big brother image over them, collect information, lock it up and use it as they so choose. That is simply not the case. That is why I am taking this opportunity to put Canadians at ease as to what exactly happens with the information we gather.

The government has taken the bull by the horns. It has undertaken an initiative to move forward positively. In saying this, again, I compliment the member for Calgary Southeast because I know he cares. His heart is where it should be. He is attempting to ensure that each and every Canadian, organization and facility has access to this information.

The Minister of Industry and the government recognize the importance of historical records. We have also taken the opportunity to point out our concern. There are privacy concerns. By the end of May we will be in a position to respond properly.

1911 Census Records
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hour provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That in relation to Bill C-23, an act to modernize the Statutes of Canada in relation to benefits and obligations, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the report stage of the bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the third reading stage of the said bill and, fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for government business on the day allotted to the consideration of the report stage and on the day allotted for the third reading stage of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.