House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act, be now read a second time and referred to a committee.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief since several of my colleagues who spoke to Bill S-13 summarized it very well. As my Liberal colleague was saying, it is not the first time that we debate this issue. Having been here since 1997 also, I know that it has been discussed on several occasions, either through private members' initiatives or through bills from the other place.

Essentially, it must be understood that, with Bill S-15 and Bill S-12 and numerous private members' bills considered previously, this issue has been thoroughly researched. A bill is never perfect. Its regulations will determine how it is implemented.

There is really nothing new in Bill S-13. What it does, however, is that it responds to Statistics Canada, which had refused to release census records on the grounds that people had provided that information under a confidentiality clause. There was indeed a 92-year rule. Five or six amendments were made to the act since the beginning of the last century, but the 92-year rule did exist.

I may also correct something my hon. colleague from the Bloc Quebecois said, if I understood correctly. Under Bill S-13, after 92 years, all basic information may be disclosed, as set out in the bill. As far as the rest of the information is concerned, we have to tack on another 20 years to that. A 20-year lead is given to family members, historians and genealogists conducting research. After 112 years, the information enters into the public domain anyway. No census information is confidential 112 years after the census was taken. We must be clear on that. If a document was signed, requesting that the information not be disclosed, the period is 112 years. In the absence of such a document, the period is 92 years.

There have been debates in the Senate, and I encourage members to read them, particularly the ones in which Senators Comeau, Kinsella, Murray and Lynch-Staunton, the leader of my party in the Senate, spoke. They made some extremely impressive points about the bill. The bottom line is the confidentiality issues involved in taking a census. The debate is about whether or not information released should remain confidential. How far should confidentiality go? And for how long? I am not talking about the secrets of Fatima. I am about talking about information contained in census records in Canada. How long should this information remain confidential?

In spite of certain questions raised, I personally find that Bill S-13 makes a great deal of sense. As my hon. colleague from the Canadian Alliance said, it does, as long as no one is tempted to ask too many questions and Statistics Canada does not ask questions that could embarrass individuals, their family or descendants or cause problems for them.

There is definitely the whole issue of the census questions, but what control does Parliament have over these questions? Will those individuals who, during the 20 years, can authorize census information to be collected have their say about future census questions? In a census, any question may be asked, but one may choose to answer only some of them. Everyone has to fill out the census forms, but no one is forced to answer every single question.

We will have to be careful not to include in the census any new questions that could be a problem. I give this example as a joke. The end of the session is near, and we will have new ministers, new ambassadors and perhaps new senators. This tradition is being upheld.

For instance, fidelity is an issue that could be addressed. It is the in thing now, with all the reality shows on television. If asked in a census, “Have you ever had an affair?”, a person could answer yes because the census is supposed to be confidential.

Can you imagine the stir that could cause among grandchildren or if family law and alimony provisions were to change in the next 92 years. I am kidding, of course, but flawed examples and analogies such as this one bring us back to what is truly at stake here, which is the confidentiality issue.

We agree that, with proper authorization, the basic data could be released 92 years after the census took place. However, release of all the information and all the answers to all the questions will not be authorized. This data will be made public only 112 years after the census. Once that is made clear, we can be for or against the bill.

That is what we need to discuss, not only with the experts, the genealogists, the historians, but with everyone. It will have to be explained in the next censuses if Bill S-13 is passed. And between you and me, that is not a done deal. However, if it is passed in a future parliament, we will have to inform the public properly. Members of Parliament will have to closely monitor the questions that will be asked, as well as the ones whose answers will be made public, at some point after you and I have retired.

Bill S-13 is the result of all the questions that have arisen since the decisions Statistics Canada made about the 1906 census. It is a much more comprehensive and professional bill in terms of its content and of the debate that it will generate.

We, in the Progressive Conservative Party, look forward to the debate on this bill, which is a step in the right direction for some and a huge question mark for others.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to again speak to Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act. The NDP supports the bill because we believe in information exchange, the preservation of information and the extension of our collective knowledge of the past. Bill S-13 would move us in that direction.

We appreciate that there has been non-partisan support on this issue and a real desire among senators to find a compromise between the parties involved.

We support the Senate's work on the bill and the amount of collegiality there has been. We also support the work of the expert panel from Industry Canada that recommended the transfer of census information to the National Archives after 92 years.

Each one of us has heard from constituents on this issue who are dismayed at the delay in releasing the data from the 1911 census. They are also concerned that in the future, census data will not be available for various kinds of research.

I would like to inform the House of one interesting submission that was made to the expert panel, which will be enlightening to this discussion. It was a submission by Gordon Watts who quoted from the journal Archivaria 45 of the fall of 1998. The article, entitled “Counting Archives In: The Appraisal of the 1991 Census of Canada”, was written by Jean-Stéphen Piché and Sheila Powell. It is an excellent explanation of why the census is so important to historians and to all of us.

The article states:

Macro-appraisal analysis of other data collected by the federal and provincial governments led us to determine that the census was the single most complete and uniform body of demographic data in Canada. The provinces are responsible for maintaining records of births, marriages, deaths, adoptions, divorces, and changes of names. These records contain much of the data on individuals that has been traditionally sought by genealogical researchers: date of birth, date of death, names of parents, occupation of parents, residence, place of birth, cause of death, religious denomination, and date and place of marriage.

The crucial difference between provincial vital statistics and the census records is that the provincial data is event-driven and thus recorded only at certain points in an individual's life when these events occur, while the census collects data at regular intervals throughout the course of a person's life. For example, provincial vital statistics on an individual who never married and who had no children would be limited to those collected during registration of their birth and death.

End of story.

The articles goes on to state:

On the other hand, census questionnaire forms would provide information at regular five-year intervals on other aspects of a person's life, such as address, marital status, language, and the identity of the person who pays the rent or the mortgage in the family. This information is collected on all individuals, and even more is collected on twenty per cent of the population through the long census form (Form 2B). This data is extensive, including information on ethnic origin and immigration data, aboriginal status, education, religion, labour force participation, income, housing, and disabilities.

In the last census that was taken there was an extensive survey on disabilities and the extent and range of disabilities within the Canadian public and the impact that has on people's abilities to work and function in society and their mobility.

So many important issues were raised in that study that will go into the public record and will be available four or five years down the line to do more comparisons. We will see legislation come out of that. That is a good example of why the census is so critical for us to value and to support.

Data is also collected by a number of other federal government programs. Taxation records and records maintained for the purposes of administering federal income security programs such as the Canada pension plan, old age security, and the disability tax credit contain information on the date of birth, the place of residence, income, marital status and other individual characteristics, depending on the type of program. There is, however, no federal government system that contains all the types of data that are captured through the census.

For the departmental systems, specific data elements are collected for the purposes of administering and delivering specific programs within a limited period of time. The data is relevant only to those programs and the more limited needs of those citizens interacting with them. It is maintained only so long as is necessary to deliver those programs. The census, on the other hand, by definition covers all Canadians.

In an increasingly mobile society, children may not see their older relatives for years at a time. Having access to historical records for genealogical purposes becomes more vital than ever. We know that oral history is being lost. We are not seeing the same level of transfer of information from one generation to another.

We also need to acknowledge that Canada's history, even in the previous century, included orphan children being moved around the country, first nations children adopted off reserves, and the movement of millions of immigrants from one population centre to another. The record of the census provides some information on where these people were at different times in their lives and allows relatives to track their history.

The census has become more intrusive over the years as Statistics Canada collects more information. However, the provision in this bill to allow citizens in a future census to opt in for the release of their information after 92 years is a positive step. It allows a measure of control for individuals, which we all agree is important.

Some people have suggested that this opt in measure would negate any potential value of a future census. Statistics Canada has asked people in the past if they would be willing to allow their private information to be shared and 95% of the population who were polled responded favourably on that. Since participation in our census is already very high, at almost 97%, we can be certain that most people will opt in to sharing that information in the future.

In closing, I want to emphasize how important this information will be to the continuance of our collective knowledge. As we know more about our past through genealogical studies and our understanding of our ancestors, we will know more about how we should be moving into the future. Many historians are already raising the alarm on how little of our daily information will survive into even the next decade. By turning to electronic forms of communication, we are choosing a temporary medium and cannot be certain that materials in today's hard drives will be accessible in decades to come.

The information in census records may be the most complete picture of a person's life that his or her ancestors may have or historians can access. We want to ensure that the fair access to records moves ahead and we will be supporting this bill.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Statistics Act
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1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Statistics Act
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1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Statistics Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

Similarly to previous vote deferrals, the vote stands deferred until the next sitting Monday.

Radiocommunication Act
Government Orders

November 6th, 2003 / 1:25 p.m.

Bourassa
Québec

Liberal

Denis Coderre for the Minister of Industry

moved that Bill C-52, an act to amend the Radiocommunication Act, be read a second time and referred to a committee.