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.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal Code
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12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Criminal Code
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12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung

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12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Accordingly, the vote is deferred until the next sitting day at the end of government orders.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to clarify what you said a few seconds ago. Are we talking about the next sitting day or next Monday? Until when exactly will the vote be deferred?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Let the Chair then ask the question to the House, in terms of the clarification, because we do not normally defer votes to Friday on a Thursday's day of business.

Let me see if I can get some clarification from the hon. whip of the official opposition, the member for Wetaskiwin.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, my motion was that it be deferred to the end of business on Friday, but all motions deferred to Friday are automatically deferred to Monday.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Then the vote is automatically re-deferred until the next sitting Monday.

The House resumed from October 20, consideration of the motion that Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act regarding census records.

Many members of Parliament have received hundreds and thousands of e-mails and letters regarding the bill. This is a very important bill to a great number of people, particularly those who are interested in historical research of family records and genealogists who obviously like to trace not only their own family's history, but other family histories in terms of preserving and knowing our heritage.

Before I address the bill specifically, I should pay tribute to two of my colleagues, the member for Calgary Southeast and the member for Peace River.

The member for Calgary Southeast introduced at one point in the House a motion which we in the Canadian Alliance supported unanimously. The motion stated:

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 member for Peace River, the previous industry critic, dealt with this issue and certainly shepherded it through our caucus in the main discussions back in 2001.

We all know that census records are an invaluable source of information for those conducting historical or genealogical research. In fact, the 1906 census, the document which gave rise to this specific bill, was a special census that was conducted only in the prairie provinces after the massive influx of immigrants at the turn of the century.

The release of the 1906 census generated more than four million hits in the 12 days it was online. The same story holds true for the 1901 census which received more than 50 million hits for its first six months online. This obviously demonstrates a deep desire by Canadians to know more about their collective history.

The problem as I understand it is the nature of census data itself. Statistics Canada strives to protect the integrity of the information it gathers. It strives to protect the privacy of the individuals as much as possible. This is something which we in the Canadian Alliance are concerned about.

In Canada we have kept census information secret for a long time after the data has been initially collected. We have kept census information secret for 92 years on average in order to address those privacy concerns. That is 20 years longer than in the United States and eight years shorter than in the United Kingdom. In my view, 92 years is a reasonable time period to wait before releasing the census information to the National Archives.

At the turn of the century, ambiguities were raised as to how long such information should be kept from public release. According to Statistics Canada, census takers were given conflicting instructions on how to collect census data. This may have led some Canadians to believe their information would be kept secret forever. The situation was clarified when confidentiality and disclosure regulations that had existed for previous census operations were enforced by law for the 1911 census.

The Canadian commissioner of privacy and a legal opinion received by Statistics Canada have led some groups to push that census records be kept secret for 20 years longer, a total of 112 years, due to the provision in Canadian law to keep personal records secret until 20 years after the death of an individual.

Bill S-13 proposes a compromise between concerns for privacy and the covenant agreed to by Statistics Canada and the Canadian public through the census.

It was originally proposed that the bill be passed in a single sitting without full deliberation. We in the Canadian Alliance could not agree to a course of action as proposed by the government on the bill. We have some serious concerns that need to be addressed and I would like to touch upon those concerns at this point.

First of all, we are seeking clarity concerning the conditional release of information. Second, I would like to discuss the creation of a new bureaucracy and new regulations to police the conditional release of information. Last, I would like to debate the appropriate passage of time before census information should be released to the public.

Bill S-13 is silent on the issue, but the research I have is that this type of information will be available in the initial release after 92 years. My understanding is that the only information that will be released after 92 years is what they call tombstone information: name, address, age, date of birth, marital status, sex, occupation.

At the turn of the century, this scope of information comprised the bulk of the census. However, some interesting questions have been asked over the years, some fairly personal questions ranging from the mental state of members of a person's family to the type of company that a person keeps, questions that understandably Statistics Canada would like to treat gently.

One has to wonder whether the questions that needed to be treated differently needed to be asked at all. That is a concern I have. Some members argue that this information should not be released because it is too personal and too private. I would advise and guide members of the government that they themselves should question whether they should be asking those questions at all. If the information is too personal to be released after a 92 year period, then perhaps the government ought not to be intruding on the privacy of Canadians today by asking those types of questions.

Nonetheless I am hoping to clarify why there will only be a partial release of this information, especially since researchers will be required to fill out an application in order to access this information. This brings me to my second point.

The bulk of this bill deals with section 17 of the Statistics Act which governs secrecy. The information released after 92 years will be reviewed by those who fill out an application to view the records. There will then be two separate sets of researchers allowed to access census records after 92 years, genealogists and historians.

Genealogists will be required to fill out a very simple form and their qualifications to the best of my knowledge will not be reviewed. Historians, however, will have to be vouched for. According to the draft regulations proposed to cabinet, persons applying to conduct historical research will be required to submit an application on their own behalf, accompanied by a form from a list of people who have “assessed the public and scientific value of the research”.

The people identified who can approve historical research are presidents or faculty deans of universities, a senior elected community official such as a mayor or a reeve, a president of an ethnic or cultural association, a member of Parliament from either this House or the Senate, a member of the provincial legislature, senior clergy, a native chief, a chief librarian, a provincial archivist, the national archivist of Canada or the chief statistician of Canada. Clearly this list of people who can approve access to census information should be included in the bill itself in order to outline exactly who can approve someone under the historian category.

If we take the example of a member of Parliament, many people question, justifiably I think, whether MPs are able or qualified to assess the public and scientific value of the proposed research. Members of Parliament and their staffers are incredibly busy. To assess the 50 or 100 historians who would approach our constituency offices and ask us to assess whether they should be allowed access to this research, quite frankly I am not sure whether a member or a senator is a good person to do that.

Further to the release of information, there is a clause in the bill which states that those people filling out the 2006 census will have to give their consent at the time they fill out the census forms for the information to be disclosed after 112 years. This is one clause that is quite confusing. It has caused a lot of concern in the genealogical community.

Some questions have been raised. Will there be a campaign to educate people about this clause? Is this a one time offer? Could people go back and change their decisions? Who is allowed to check the consent box for children? How many people is it expected will opt out of a public release? If more than 50% of Canadians choose to keep their census records secret until the end of time, ad infinitum, how will that skew the other 49% of records that are to be released? How much will it cost Canadians to administer and keep these records secret?

Finally, I wonder why we need to create a new bureaucracy to police this endeavour. A form is being created for those who wish to conduct research on census information.

In a speech, the sponsor of the bill, Liberal Senator Lorna Milne, stated:

The government does not want to make it difficult to conduct historical and genealogical research.

I think the senator is a genealogist herself. She is an advocate on behalf of that community and she certainly deserves credit for her activities.

If it were the case that the government does not want to make it difficult, in my view the government would not be imposing new and complicated procedures in order to access census information. It is my experience that regulations, forms and bureaucracy make things more difficult, not easier.

I must ask has the government conducted a cost benefit analysis on these new regulations? Does the government have any idea how many people will be applying to view these records? How is the government going to police and monitor the use of these records? Will there be fines or jail times for those who misuse their privileges?

We in the Canadian Alliance will be proposing amendments to the bill. We assume it will be in committee if the House continues to sit.

One of the most important questions facing the House now is how much time is appropriate to respect the privacy rights of those who have completed these census forms. Today the average life expectancy for Canadian males is 75 years and for females it is 81 years. In all likelihood, people's personal census information would not be made available while they were still alive.

As may be noticed from my speech, we in the Canadian Alliance believe that 92 years of secrecy is a sufficient and reasonable time period to protect the integrity of census records. At the same time we do not belittle the privacy concerns of Canadians and the Privacy Commissioner on this subject. The Canadian Alliance is very concerned about the breadth and scope of the current census forms.

There is a balance in saying that a 92 year period is reasonable but at the same time if there are questions for example about the mental state of members of a family, and it is something that is deemed to be too personal, we ought to consider whether we ought to ask that question at all at any time.

Many of us know people or have heard from constituents who feel especially that the long form of the census asks for too much personal information, financial information or otherwise. Statistics Canada is a depository of highly sensitive and private information of private citizens and corporations. Many individuals and corporations believe that Statistics Canada collects too much information these days and then because of the sheer volume of information, is delayed in releasing its analysis in a timely matter. That could be a full debate on Statistics Canada and the Statistics Act but it is a partner to the debate on this bill.

I would hope that the government would simply adopt the approach proposed by the Canadian Alliance in its previous motion which said that 92 years is a reasonable time period to release this information to the National Archives. Frankly, let us trust the National Archives and the archivists there to determine who should or who should not view the census information.

We will be watching what the government does with the bill and how long the House sits. If the bill gets to committee, we will certainly be participating in those discussions and proposing amendments at that stage to try to improve it.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

November 6th, 2003 / 12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois on Bill S-13 to amend the Statistics Act.

There are three specific points in the bill. Among other things it states, and I quote:

This enactment removes a legal ambiguity in relation to access to census records taken between 1910 and 2003.

There will be limited publication of census records and full publication. With respect to limited publication, it says:

It allows genealogical and historical researchers access to these records under certain conditions for a 20-year period, beginning 92 years after the census took place.

For full publication it says:

One hundred and twelve years after the census, anyone may examine the records without restriction. The bill also includes a provision for avoiding any problem with respect to divulging data contained in any future census.

The important elements of this bill concern the availability of information contained in census records taken between 1910 and 2003.

Subsection 17(4) of the bill would allow, after 92 years, any person who so desires to conduct genealogical or historical research if that person seeks written permission to examine the information contained in the census records. A person could do so if that person obtains written permission.

The approval of any research project is subject to its public and scientific value. Conditions for the use and communication of information apply if a person seeks permission to conduct historical or genealogical research. A person who wishes to examine the records must sign—and this is very important—an undertaking in the form prescribed by regulation and abide by it. Every person who contravenes this undertaking is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Who is interested in examining this information? Whom is this bill for? It is for everyone interested in history, such as historians and genealogists who want to consult these census records. Historians and genealogists seek information about households and families in earlier times. They want to find out about how work was shared among members of the family, the geographic and socio-economic mobility of ordinary Canadians, and the growth or decline of rural and urban areas, all essential aspects of our national history. That is what they want to know.

These census records are a unique source of information on the Canadian population and patterns of settlement. It is of inestimable importance to our understanding of the past. If you do not know where you have been, the saying goes, how will you know where you are going? We often use historical data to see the path behind us and to stake out the path ahead.

Historians say that only access to individual census records will enable them to do their research adequately. Why, after all, do we take a census? Why, after all, do we go from house to house, as used to be the case, to ask people questions? It was the only way to find out how families were made up.

Some families at the time were very large. Many people went to work in the forests; others went to work in another city, but they still had one specific place of residence.

People at the time, then, were very mobile. Nevertheless, their physical place of residence remained the same, even though they went elsewhere to work. They would come back after several months.

I always give the example of my father and grandfather. My father lived in Laterrière and my grandfather, in Chicoutimi. At the time, in the early 1930s, my father worked in the Price logging camps. He left in the fall, spent the winter in the forest, and returned in the spring.

Every time he came home, my mother had given birth to a new baby. My mother had 16 children. That was quite an accomplishment. A census was needed to count the people and observe how they were living.

In those days, many households also included the grandparents or, if not the grandparents, some great uncles. So this was a kind of blended family, a different kind from those we have now. At that time, it was the extended family all living under one roof.

As a result, it was important to carry out a census. Data is not collected in the same way nowadays.

Many Canadians and Quebeckers have an interest in genealogy and need to consult census data on individuals in order to establish lineage and to trace families back in time.

As I said, this is very important. People have more and more free time these days, and more and more are retiring early at 50 or 55. They then have time to look up their ancestors and investigate their family tree.

In my own family, we have done this on both sides. My father's and my mother's ancestors are all from the same French background. They came from Normandy. We have done the research and found that out.

It is very important to be able to tell children where their ancestors came from, who their relatives are, and how their ancestors came here.

Census data is therefore very important for providing information from which people can investigate their family tree.

Census data is a source of very important and valuable information, because it provides names and ages.

In the past, many people went by nicknames. Someone might, for instance, have been baptized as Amédée but have been known all his life by some other name. People did not even know what his real name was, what names were on his baptismal records. This was a common occurrence.

For instance, my father always told us about his uncles, but we never knew their real names. We found them out only when the family tree was done. They had been known by nicknames.

Census data includes names and ages. It used to be difficult to figure out people's ages, because they might have been baptized long after their birth. So we could not always know their exact age.

Certain details about all family members are also given in the census. They provide information specific to an individual, such as date of birth, whether or not they were an immigrant, level of education and economic situation.

It is only through an examination of the lives of each family member that we can establish the lineage of Canadian families.

In my opinion, it is very important. Gérard Bouchard, the brother of the former leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard, has compiled a database on all the lineages in my area.

I do not know if you are aware that there are a lot of diseases such as cystic fibrosis in my area. There is a high incidence of these diseases because, through the ages, there has been too much inbreeding. It is important to be able to retrace lineages through statistics to find solutions to this problem and deal with these diseases.

So we can see how important this bill is. The main point of the bill is to make census records available. There is also another important thing. Subclause 17(7) indicates that, starting 112 years after the census is taken, the information may be examined by anyone.

Subclause 17(8) says that “the information contained in the returns of any census of a population taken in 2006 or later may, starting 92 years after the census is taken, be examined by anyone if the person to whom the information relates had given their consent to disclosure of that information”.

If consent to disclose personal information is not given by the person concerned, the information will never be made public. Earlier, a Canadian Alliance member said that the bill was dangerous. I say no, it is not, because if a person were to refuse consent, the information will never be disclosed.

Subclause 17(10) states that the returns of each census conducted between 1910 and 2003 or effective 2006 shall, “92 years after the census is taken, be transferred to the National Archives of Canada in order to permit their examination”.

The Bloc Quebecois finds that Bill S-13 allows important historical information to be studied after an acceptable statutory timeframe. Consequently, we are in favour of Bill S-13.

The Bloc Quebecois' political action and presence here in Ottawa help to extend Quebec's common history. Access for archivists and historians, 92 years after the census is taken, will allow the production of better historical documents that enrich the cultural heritage of Quebec.

In fact, Quebec does not have access to information from this period in Quebec's history. This will enable us to enrich Quebec's heritage. Many experts maintain that census documents are essential. This is an important point. With regard to historical or genealogical research, where does the right to privacy end and the need for historical information begin?

That is the question we need to ask: Where do we draw the line between privacy and the need for public disclosure? The Bloc Quebecois feels that while the right to privacy has to be respected, census information should not be subject to perpetual confidentiality.

With the passage of time, respondents' concerns about protecting their privacy will diminish and, after an appropriate period of time, the public's right to access census records overrides respondents' rights to privacy.

Furthermore, since the data is not harmful to those still living and that releasing such data cannot harm them, we feel that historical and scientific requirements are more important than protecting the privacy of the dead.

Some people would argue that Canadians were assured that their privacy would be protected. The threat of harm to persons still living is very slim.

I want to digress here. Next Saturday, people in my riding will celebrate a woman's 100th birthday and her husband's 98th birthday. They will also be celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. This is unusual and an honour for Jonquière to pay tribute to this couple, originally from the Magdalen Islands. They settled in my area when the Abitibi Consolidated plant was built in Kénogami and raised their family there. Now, we are paying tribute to them.

This bill could adversely affect them, but I think not. I think that they are proud to talk about their lives; they are proud of their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren. I am sure that, if asked, they would agree to disclose their information so that their family and their great-grandchildren can have access it, to do their family tree.

The Bloc Quebecois does not believe, however, that the dead do not have the right to privacy protection. The terms in the bill will ensure a reasonable statute of limitations, as recommended by a committee of experts, including Mr. Justice La Forest.

Most of the census data is not confidential. Data that is confidential, such as income data, probably lose its confidential nature over the years.

Despite assurances about confidentiality given to people providing census data, we believe there was a desire at the time to keep the information for future generations. A good indication of this is that the information was always sent to the National Archives of Canada, as indicated in the current act. The National Archives have always had the mandate to conserve the data for future consultation.

Many concerns relating to the private nature of census records deal with ephemeral issues that are of no great interest 92 years later. We realize that some people may have concerns about the privacy of people who provided census information, but we believe the reasons for these concerns will disappear over the years.

The additional 20 year time limit, that is between the right to examine records for historical or genealogical research and the right for anyone to examine them, in relation to census records taken between 1910 and 2003, shows a great respect for people covered by previous censuses.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois believes that making legislative changes to allow for the divulging of census information considered to be confidential does not affect privacy.

A March 2000 study revealed that Canadians are in favour of releasing census information under the method proposed by Bill S-13. For all these reasons and many others, therefore, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the principle of the bill.

As I said at the beginning, the bill respects privacy and shows great respect for the people concerned and those who might be 100 years old today. The provisions of Bill S-13 are also critically important for historians and records officers, allowing them to pursue their historical and genealogical research.

The Bloc Quebecois will gladly to vote in favour of this bill.

Statistics Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak about this very important issue, Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act.

Certainly those of us who have been here since 1993 know that there has been much debate over the last few years, and quite intense periods of debate, about access to historical census records.

I have been very pleased to see throughout this debate just how many of my constituents and how many people across the country are hooked up to the Internet, because I think it was one of our first blasts of e-mails on a major subject.

In fact, many of us in this House have been contacted by constituents on this issue. All of us understand their need for access to census records and the value that they can provide to their family's history and genealogical research. All of us, I am sure, are in agreement with the reasons why genealogists, historians and researchers want historical census data. They are legitimate reasons and they are important reasons.

At the same time, of course, colleagues in this House had to recognize that while there is an undeniably great value attached to historical census records, there are also important principles of privacy protection that must be addressed.

We have to be sensitive to the privacy concerns of Canadians. Careful thought has been given to this matter, in fact, and both sides of this debate have been considered and extensively debated in the Senate and by Canadians at large. I think there have been many private members' bills on this, both in this place and in the other.

Bill S-13 addresses the legal ambiguity concerning the confidentiality status of historical census records. This bill would allow the access to historical census records that genealogists and historians have been seeking, while balancing Canadians' concerns for the protection of their personal information.

Specifically, the legislation would amend the Statistics Act to permit access to the 1911 to 2001 census records after 92 years, with conditions, and after 112 years, without conditions. For 2006 and all future censuses, it would permit access after 92 years because consent would be provided at the time the census was taken.

For all members of this House, let us have a brief overview of Bill S-13. The bill makes changes to section 17 of the Statistics Act, which is the section that governs secrecy. There are three main clauses to the amendment. The first sets out the release of historical census records. The second clause gives the governor in council certain regulatory powers. Clause 3 sets out a penalty provision should the conditions of access not be respected.

Let us look at clause 1. It governs the release of census returns collected between 1910 and 2003, which in fact would cover the censuses of 1911 through to 2001. This means that 92 years after the census has been taken, a person may have access to those census records to conduct genealogical research on their own family or on behalf of another person from whom they have written consent.

Anyone conducting genealogical or family research will be required to sign an undertaking in order to have the right to use these census records. This undertaking will be prescribed by regulation and will contain certain conditions that would restrict the disclosure to only tombstone information related to a person's own family.

Similarly, historians or researchers wishing to have access to census records must also sign an undertaking limiting disclosure to only tombstone information from the census record. In addition, historical research projects must demonstrate public and scientific value and be approved by an individual who is on the list of authorized persons. This will be prescribed by regulation.

After 112 years, census records may be used without restrictions. The 112 years represents a condition that provides 20 years of additional privacy protection for Canadians. The Privacy Act permits information to be released from a census 92 years after that census. The Privacy Act also permits the release of personal information 20 years following the death of an individual.

Since at this point in time there are few people alive by the age of 112 years, or even very many who are much beyond the age of 92, the conjunction of these various conditions has resulted in the 112 years as set out in Bill S-13.

Beginning with the 2006 census, the government will be asking Canadians to consent to the release of their personal census information 92 years into the future. If consent is given, then anyone will have access to the information after that period. It is proposed as an opt-in question, seeking the permission of Canadians to have their census information eventually made available to the public.

Clause 2 states that the governor in council is to make regulations setting out the form of the undertaking required to gain access to census records and the conditions for the use and disclosure of that information. This will ensure that the personal information of other individuals contained in the census record is protected. In addition to this undertaking, the regulations will list the category of persons who will approve historical research projects as described.

The regulations will be made on the recommendation of the Minister of Industry, as that minister is responsible for Statistics Canada, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, as that minister is responsible for the Library and Archives of Canada.

Clause 3 sets out the penalty for failure to respect the undertaking given by genealogists and historical researchers. A violation of this undertaking could result in a summary conviction and a fine of $1,000.

As I have mentioned, there has been much debate in this place, in the other place and in the general public about how to deal with census records. I am sure most of us in the House agree that we can support Bill S-13. The conditions outlined in the bill are neither onerous nor restrictive for genealogists and historians, but put appropriate safeguards in place to protect the privacy of individuals. Bill S-13 provides reasonable access to historical census records and meets the needs of genealogists and historians for information about their families and their community.

Some people may view these conditions as being overly bureaucratic or burdensome. However, the proposed procedures to gain access to historical census records follow those already in place at the Library and Archives of Canada. The only additional requirement being asked of genealogists and historians is to sign a form guaranteeing that they will release only the tombstone information. It is a small price to pay to protect the privacy of our ancestors.

As well, some genealogists and historical researchers feel that if Canadians are permitted to determine the accessibility of their personal census information, the complete history of our country will be lost to future generations.

Canadians should be allowed to decide whether others can have access to their census information. This is in keeping with the highest standard of privacy protection, which Canadians have come to expect. Informed consent about the use of one's own personal information is a matter of fundamental personal privacy protection.

In closing, I want to reiterate that Bill S-13 has achieved the right balance between access to census records for historical and genealogical research and the protection of the privacy of Canadians. I urge all members of the House to support the bill and finally put this issue to rest.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Peterborough has informed me in writing that he would be unable to introduce his motion during the hour provided for private members' business on Friday, November 7, 2003. Since it was not possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence, I am directing the clerk to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Private members' hour will thus be cancelled and the House will continue with the business before it.