An Act to amend the Statistics Act and the National Archives of Canada Act (census records)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Murray Calder  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of March 28, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

April 9th, 2002 / 7:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry about what we have heard today in this debate. We are in the House of Commons. I am elected member of parliament. There are 301 of us that are supposed to be here to do the will of the people.

We had a motion passed in the House over two years ago that stated the release of the 1911 census should be done. Has it been done? No. Has the will of the people been done? No.

We have already established the fact tonight in this debate that the Department of Justice and Statistics Canada have tried repeatedly to find public opinion that the census should not be released. They have failed miserably. Everything they have done has shown that there are 7.5 million people in Canada involved in geneology who would like to see this census released. That is the fact. The 92 year rule is still in effect. I believe it protects privacy. We have established that we are not breaking the law.

What does the public think? I will reinforce that. Industry Canada through StatsCanada, through Environics, went to members of the public to find out exactly what they were thinking on this issue, and they want the census released.

The House of Commons, 301 elected representatives of the people, passed a motion over two years ago passed to say that the census should be released. Industry Canada has tried and failed miserably each time to find a poll to say that the people do not want it released. The people want it released. I will ask one more time if I have unanimous consent to deem Bill C-312 votable.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

April 9th, 2002 / 7:15 p.m.
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Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a debate that we should not be having about a bill that we should not need. The Americans have been releasing census data over 72 years old for years. The British have a 100 year rule. I think very few of us in the House can understand why this country cannot have a 92 year rule.

The previous speakers have castigated Statistics Canada as being the problem in this particular situation. I would like to say that I do not believe it is Statistics Canada. I believe it is the Department of Justice, which is consistently making more and more interpretations favouring privacy, favouring the withholding of information rather than favouring the opening of information, the release of information.

There is a trend that is occurring in the realm of access to information law. Recently we saw in the case of ministerial expense accounts where a justice department ruling overturned the practice of 17 years whereby ministerial expense accounts were routinely available to the public, to the media. It was a justice department ruling. It reflected badly on the government and it reflected badly on all members of parliament on this side. That is because at every opportunity it would appear that the justice department is interpreting any ambiguity in the law, any nuance in the law, in favour of privacy.

In this particular case what we are dealing with is simply a resolution favouring confidentiality or declaring the need for confidentiality that was expressed in 1905 that did not have the force of law and then an amendment to the Statistics Canada Act in 1918 that did have the force of law which most of us would agree did not have the intent to withhold census information forever. It did not have that intent and other speakers have commented on this.

So why do we have the situation where an interpretation from the justice department overturns what is very evidently not the intention of the law at the time and not the will and the spirit of this parliament or the people in Canada at large? I would suggest that had Bill C-312 been made votable it would have passed the House by at least a two-thirds majority, if not three-quarters.

Let the record show and let all Canadians who are looking in on this debate realize that the backbench members of parliament, almost to a man or woman, support the principles in this legislation before the House.

I should say that Bill C-312 which I have examined very carefully is good legislation. It does what is necessary without opening the door to abuse of privacy. We are talking about census data that is 92 years old. This legislation even provides for the rare eventuality where someone might live more than 92 years. This legislation would allow for that person to object to the release of the census data or delay it until after that person had died.

What is inconsistent is the privacy legislation, or let me turn it around and say libel law. We have a situation in this country that when a person dies you cannot libel them, Mr. Speaker. You can say whatever you want about a person who has just died, no matter how dramatic or how false, and no one can prosecute you. Yet we cannot get the truth about a person because of this bizarre interpretation of the Statistics Act of 1918. You have the situation, Mr. Speaker, where you can say falsehoods about people but you cannot get the truth about people after they die.

There has been reference to the Privacy Act. It has been suggested that the Privacy Act says personal information should be protected for 20 years after the person dies. That may not be a good thing in the Privacy Act, because again it does not reflect the reality that happens in case law with respect to libel.

Do people really require their personal information to be withheld after they die? We have never had that debate. Surely we do not have to protect this kind of information for 92 years or perhaps 30 or 40 years after they have died.

It makes no sense, but then it might make sense if we examine some of the testimony presented before the committee that was charged by the industry minister to examine the issue.

I have a quote here from the Privacy Commissioner who appeared before that committee. The Privacy Commissioner in his testimony admitted that the Privacy Act did not apply to the census records of 1906 and 1911 and that he was there in the general public interest to make sure the privacy of Canadians was protected. Here is what the Privacy Commissioner said:

There should be no limitations on privacy living or dead.

In other words, the Privacy Commissioner is proposing that there never be any revealing of the personal information of individuals that might be of interest to historians. I hate to tell you this, Mr. Speaker, because I know you know it, but Sir John A. Macdonald was an alcoholic. He liked the bottle. There are great stories about how in his office in the West Block there is a secret passage that still exists and that secret passage was built so that he could get his alcohol delivered secretly.

Other members are smiling at that, but the point is that it is very important for us to know the personalities and the personal things about the people who lead us. For the Privacy Commissioner to suggest that type of information should be kept secret forever does such a disservice to Canadians.

The same applies to the census records. The national archivist has called them a treasure. The Privacy Commissioner has proposed that they be destroyed. I cannot find the words to express my outrage at the very suggestion that this information that is so valuable to all Canadians should be destroyed at the whim of one person who is supposedly an officer of this House and yet takes it upon himself to instruct the bureaucrats who do actually follow the instructions of the Privacy Commissioner.

We now have a situation with this government, and I am not sure whether it is the political government or the bureaucratic government, where more and more the option is to close down, to shut out, to make private rather than open.

I think this is excellent legislation. I wish Canadians to know that at least the backbench and all sides of the House support the bill absolutely. It should have been votable.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

April 9th, 2002 / 7:05 p.m.
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Beauharnois—Salaberry Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-312, an act to amend the Statistics Act to authorize the transfer of census records from Statistics Canada to the National Archives, so that these records can be made available to the public 92 years after a census.

I am convinced that we all agree that the reasons for which genealogists, historians and researchers wish to have access to historical records are legitimate and important. In fact, these people are an effective and well organized interest group, and they have seen to it, through various campaigns and petitions, that their message is heard clearly by their members, by journalists and by their elected representatives. In doing so, they gained a lot of support and visibility.

While historical census records are undoubtedly of great value, an important privacy principle comes into play: is it appropriate to retroactively change the conditions under which Canadians provided information during a census? Canadians were promised that their personal information would forever remain confidential.

Over the past 20 years, many legal opinions have been issued on the disclosure of post-1901 census records. This is a very complex issue, but so far no legal opinion has clearly established that the act authorizes Statistics Canada to disclose historical census records.

Under the regulations respecting the Privacy Act, individual census records cannot be made public 92 years after the collection of the data, since the disclosure provisions of the Privacy Act are governed by any other act. It so happens that the Statistics Act includes confidentiality provisions that prohibit disclosure. Therefore, the records of the 1906 and subsequent censuses cannot be legally transferred to the National Archives for public release.

The public can now have access to Canada's records for 1901 and previous censuses, through the National Archives. These records are now part of the public domain, since those censuses were conducted under various acts that did not include specific provisions on confidentiality.

Census takers received instructions that included guidelines relating to confidentiality, but these did not have any force of law. The 1891 census files were made public in 1983, and those for 1901 in 1993.

However, access to individual census files for 1906 and all subsequent censuses is explicitly forbidden by law. This of course is a cause of concern for a number of genealogists, historians and researchers who were expecting the 1911 data to become available in 2003.

The 1906, 1911 and 1916 censuses were carried out under the Census and Statistics Act. The instructions to the census takers of the day had force of law and included requirements for the confidentiality of the census data. The 1918 Statistics Act and subsequent legislation include provisions that are very solid and very clear about confidentiality. The 1921 census and all subsequent censuses until the present time have been carried out under this legislation.

A number of people have raised the issue of the existence of the “promise of perpetual confidentiality” or the “explicit guarantee of perpetual confidentiality” made to census respondents.

The answer to this question is found in the legislation and enabling regulations that were in effect at the time the census was carried out. In fact the instructions issued to census takers were as follows:

Any officer or other individual employed in any capacity whatsoever in the taking of the census shall keep secret the information collected by the census takers and entered in the tables or forms.

I believe that the members of this House will understand that, in order to resolve this question, consideration must be given to access to the census records as well as to the concerns of the Canadian public regarding the protection of privacy.

We must determine whether this bill represents an acceptable balance between the right to privacy and the interests of researchers and genealogists.

Bill C-312 proposes to retroactively change the confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act. How would Canadians feel if the confidential information they gave to Statistics Canada was made public? Would that jeopardize the feeling that their privacy is being protected? What would happen to their trust in this government and Statistics Canada?

We have to find out what the public feels about a retroactive amendment to the act that would allow the disclosure of personal information. In Canada, there are currently 100,000 people who are still living and who were counted in the 1911 census.

We must obtain the answers to these important questions. This is why Statistics Canada has hired the Environics research group to conduct an opinion poll on the issue of access to historical census records. A series of townhall meetings and discussion panels were organized throughout the country to get the views of Canadians. These consultations were completed in January 2002 and a report was submitted to the minister.

The main reason for these consultations was to get the views of a wide range of people and groups and to give Canadians an opportunity to express their concerns about or their support for access to historical census records.

If access to historical census records is allowed, it should be done in a way that would meet the strong commitment of this government toward the protection of personal information. This is certainly something that we all wish for and insist on.

I would like to assure my colleagues that the minister responsible for Statistics Canada really wishes to find a balanced solution to this issue. This is why I believe we should wait for the minister to see the results of these consultations with the people of Canada.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

April 9th, 2002 / 7:05 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek unanimous consent of the House to make Bill C-312 votable.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

April 9th, 2002 / 6:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to take part in this debate which is, really, a debate about social values.

This is about the social values surrounding the possibility of investigating our past, of tracing our history as precisely as possible on the one hand, and on the other, the very modern value of respecting privacy. These two ideas clash. This is a debate that has already been taking place for a number of years in Canada, and I will come back to this later.

Let us look at Bill C-312 for a moment. The summary of the bill stipulates the following:

This enactment expressly authorizes the transfer of all census records from Statistics Canada to the National Archives of Canada for permanent safekeeping. It gives access to the records to genealogists and other researchers 92 years after the census, subject to a privacy right it creates that allows individuals to object to the disclosure of personal information in the census records.

The previous speaker made reference to the fact that he introduced a motion in the House two years ago, Motion M-160 if I am not mistaken, which was amended, and which was as follows:

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.

Unfortunately, this motion was not implemented in the way we would have liked following its adoption in the House. That having been said, the reason was probably something to do with this debate on social values to which I referred and which was going on.

It is important to point out that on November 5, 1999, the then Minister of Industry, the current Deputy Prime Minister, formed a committee of experts with the mandate to examine access to historic census records and to submit a report on the legal and privacy repercussions of releasing census records.

The committee was to examine Canadians' views on the advisability of continuing to protect information and determine the options for making this kind of information available to the public. The committee consisted of eminent academics and a retired supreme court judge. It received over 2,500 opinions, briefs, letters and pieces of correspondence and the work went on for several months, approximately seven in fact.

One of the recommendations the committee made in its report was that the public be allowed access? to all past, present and future census records 92 years after the data are collected.

On December 15, 2000, the then Minister of Industry, Mr. Tobin, released the committee's report, indicating that since this study and the issues involved were very complex, there should be a second more intensive study, given the broad ramifications, and new public consultations.

Environics was the group selected to carry out the consultations seeking public opinion on the release of post-1901 information. These public consultations were held throughout Quebec and Canada from December 14, 2001 to January 30, 2002. The public report, which was submitted to Statistics Canada on February 15, contained 11 records of proceedings following the various meetings held by Environics.

Clearly, the debate is still ongoing. The conclusions are not final, and our colleague has presented Bill C-312 which, I must say, takes care to establish a certain number of safeguards for use by citizens who fear that personal and confidential information might be released. There are a number of arguments in favour of releasing data from the various censuses.

Should we decide to go this route, we would have to make sure that this possibility—the fact that in 92 years this information will become public—is mentioned on census forms, so that citizens are fully aware of how the information they provide in a census will be treated.

It is assumed that 92 years later, a large number of those who provided information in a census will unfortunately no longer be around. Therefore, they could not personally be answerable for the information they provided 92 years earlier.

Bill C-312 also specifies that only genealogists and duly authorized researchers would have access to these documents. It must be understood that these documents would not be accessible for public consultation. They would only be available to experts whose job it is to describe how society evolves and the major changes that affect it. For genealogists and historians, the historical information contained in the various censuses is truly invaluable.

Incidentally, a number of western democracies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, already have legislation allowing for the disclosure of confidential information after a certain number of years. In the case of the United States, it is 72 years after a census, while in the United Kingdom, it is 100 years. The hon. member's bill provides for a 92 year period, which seems perfectly reasonable under the circumstances.

As I indicated, the bill proposed by the hon. member includes a number of safeguards. For example, an individual who does not want the information he provides in a census to eventually become public could prevent this from happening 92 years later. Some might claim that the bill includes enough safeguards to go ahead without compromising an individual's ability to defend and protect personal information.

Now let us look at the arguments against this bill. Of course, there is the fact that the confidentiality of census information has been entrenched in Canadian legislation since 1911. This means that an individual may have died with the conviction that the information that he or she provided during a census would never be made public. Obviously, that individual would not expect, a few years after his or her death, that parliament would revisit the issue and decide to release the information that individual thought would never be made public.

It is also a problem because filling out census questionnaires has become mandatory. There are penalties for those who fail to do so. What then will the information given on these census questionnaires be worth, if the respondent knows that information he or she wanted to keep confidential will be made public one day?

Let us not forget the fact that the privacy commissioner has expressed serious reservations with regard to the possibility of releasing census information that is considered confidential.

As we can see, that are relevant and legitimate arguments to be made both in favour and against the release of personal information. For those in favour of this bill, it would be logical to think that general information only, and not specifically personal information, would be made public.

However, there are some serious reservations. We must take into account these reservations and these legitimate concerns expressed by people who are worried that personal information they provided could be released in the future.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

April 9th, 2002 / 6:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe the heavy-hand of the government whip coming down on a Liberal member like that. What a shame, particularly given the fact that the bill follows in the spirit of a motion, Motion No. 160, which I introduced in the last parliament and which was passed in September 2000, as the previous member just referenced.

The motion which I introduced in the House said that:

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.

My motion two years ago had very broad support. It was quite evident that once it had been granted votable status that it was likely to pass. The government managed to get its member from Ottawa Centre to introduce a disingenuous amendment to my motion which the government voted for more or less on a party line. I believe the then minister of industry, the now Deputy Prime Minister, seemed to have been consistently protecting the bureaucrats at Statistics Canada in their intransigence in this matter.

The member for Ottawa Centre for some reason opted to gut this motion with broad support so that instead of reading “in the opinion of this House the government should take all necessary steps to release the 1911 census records”, it ended up reading “that in the opinion of this House, the government should consider releasing the 1911 census records”. I wish that the directive to the executive to release that census data was as clear and unequivocal as my Ottawa friend opposite suggests. Regrettably what we saw in September 2000 was the minister of industry intervening in the legislative process of a private member's bill, which was supposedly non-partisan, to water down the intent of Motion No. 160.

I am glad to see there is a member opposite who has introduced a thoughtful bill which is frankly a more comprehensive means of addressing the problem of non-disclosure of the census data according to the 92 year rule than did my motion. My motion simply addressed the year 1911. It was a small targeted effort to allow the House to speak to the matter and it did so. However, this bill is more comprehensive and it would solve the problem permanently. For that reason, I strongly support it and urge all my colleagues to do the same.

However, while I commend my friend opposite for his effort, on behalf of genealogists, family researchers, historians and archivists, I really must question his diagnosis of the problem. He continually referred to the intransigence of Statistics Canada bureaucrats, but the last time I checked Statistics Canada was an agency of the executive branch of the government. Under the aegis of a statute passed by this parliament, it reports through this parliament to the Minister of Industry.

I hope that my friend opposite and colleagues who feel like me will use every tool at their disposal to persuade the Minister of Industry to cause the officials at Statistics Canada to heed the rule of parliament, as expressed in the vote on my motion in September 2000, and to follow the rule of law. As the member opposite has clearly demonstrated, there is no compelling legal barrier to the release of the census data. Those who have investigated this matter have found that there is absolutely no evidence that the people of Canada were told about a promise of confidentiality that the census would last forever.

Until quite recently, there seems to be a new invention of Statistics Canada. The member's Bill C-312 provides for particular protection for privacy. I think the Privacy Act would apply.

Most importantly, let us apply common sense to the issue as other jurisdictions throughout the world have done. When the government compels people to furnish it with information on penalty of violating the law it is entirely reasonable and just for such citizens to expect a real degree of confidentiality in the information for the term of their natural lives.

The information we are talking about in the 1911 census is basic information. It does not have a bearing on people's privacy. It consists of the names of people and their spouses, how many children they had, their occupation and where they lived. It is this sort of basic information and in some instances a little more. However it is absolutely critical to conducting the practice of history in Canada, a country which unfortunately is losing its sense of history.

We are not seeking to reveal the personal habits, behaviours or deep personal secrets of our great grandparents. We are asking on behalf of tens of thousands of Canadian archivists, historians and genealogical researchers to have access to basic information.

Once again, I strongly support Bill C-312 and encourage all members to do the same. However as we have seen in the government's response to my Motion No. 160, even if the House were to speak to the matter, even if the hon. member opposite were to obtain consent to make the bill votable as he did from this side, and even if the vote approved the bill and it became law, I am not sure the government would act.

The House has expressed its views on the matter. It did so more than two years ago and the government has done precisely nothing. The Minister of Industry has set up more committees to review the matter. Reports have come back and more time has passed. We have seen an endless stream of procrastination.

While I commend the bill and this legislative effort a lot of hon. members get heat from constituents who want to open census records. The members say they will support the private member's bill or have voted for the motion and then ask to be left alone.

That is not good enough, particularly for members on the government side. They need to button down the Minister of Industry and demand that he bring to heel the bureaucrats at Statistics Canada who have so far refused to allow for an appropriate, just, common law settlement to the problem.

I hope all members will make the bill votable. I hope it will pass. I hope the executive branch will act in a way it failed to act following passage of a similar motion in the last parliament.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

April 9th, 2002 / 6:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

moved that Bill C-312, an act to amend the Statistics Act and the National Archives of Canada Act (census records), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the chance to debate Bill C-312. The bill aims to give researchers access to historic census records after 92 years.

At first glance one might think this is a very obscure matter, yet since I introduced the bill just over a year ago, my office has received petitions signed by more than 14,000 Canadians who call for the release of historic census records. If petitions received before the election are counted, then I have heard from more than 20,000 Canadians on this issue. A similar number of petitions have been received in the other place where there is an identical bill, S-12, coming up for third reading. Some hon. colleagues tell me that they have received more letters and e-mails on the historical census than any other issue.

With that much interest in the bill, it is very unfortunate it has not been deemed votable. I will be seeking the unanimous consent of the House to rectify this oversight and make C-312 votable. I hope all hon. members will agree that any matter resulting in over 20,000 names on petitions is of considerable public concern and should be put to a democratic vote in the House whether or not the members support the bill itself.

Why is there such an interest in this issue? There is an estimated 7.5 million Canadians engaged in geneology. Tracing one's family roots is one of Canada's most popular hobbies. For some, the Mormons for example, genealogical research is of religious importance.

The census is the only historic record that provides the information about family units rather than just individuals. It paints a portrait of Canada in a previous age, so it is a valuable tool to historians. It has been used to establish legal rights such as first nations treaty rights. Medical researchers have used the census to establish family relationships, a vital piece of information when studying genetically inherited diseases.

The census records up to and including the 1901 census are available to all Canadians on microfilm through the national archives and at many libraries and regional archives across Canada. In order to protect the privacy of living Canadians, census records have traditionally been kept confidential for 92 years before their public release. In fact this 92 year rule is actually spelled out in the regulations accompanying the Privacy Act which states under section 6( d ) that the archives may disclose information for research or statistical purposes “in cases where the information was obtained through the taking of a census or survey, and 92 years have elapsed following the census or survey containing the information”.

In other words, the 92 year rule proposed by Bill C-312 already has a basis in Canadian law for the censuses. There is nothing new about providing access to census records. There has never been a complaint about records up to and including the 1901 census being made available to the public. In fact Newfoundlanders already have access to much more recent censuses taken before the province joined confederation.

Why then is Bill C-312 even necessary? That is a very good question and one that has challenged legal minds.

I am a chicken farmer and not a lawyer, but here is one explanation. Statistics Canada has refused to turn over the National Archives records from the 1906 western Canadian census and the 1911 and other censuses. This is despite requests from the National Archives of Canada. As I said, I am a farmer, not a lawyer, but lawyers tell me that Statistics Canada is required by the National Archives of Canada to turn over such historically significant records to the archives. The archives then can release them to the public under existing legislation.

It is not just any lawyer saying this. In a confidential legal opinion from August 2000 a senior counsel at the Department of Justice, Ann Chaplin, concluded the following:

--the better view seems to be that the National Archivist has the authority to release pre-1918 census documents without seeking any legislative change.

She goes on to say however that the matter is not free from doubt for records after 1918 as a result of the Statistics Act passed that year. She suggests a minor legislative change for clarity. She also argues that there was no intention in the 1918 Statistics Act to change the previous policy on eventual release of records through the archives.

Why then Bill C-312? Given the intransigence of Statistics Canada on this matter, there needs to be legislative clarity. There has also been a concern raised about the privacy of individuals whose names appear in the census. Bill C-312 seeks to address that concern. It would allow an individual to object in writing to the release of information that would invade his or her privacy. In short, the bill is a compromise between the rights of Canadian researchers to have access to this historical treasure trove and the rights of individuals to protect their privacy.

The confidential legal opinion from justice is not the only word on this matter either. In 1999-2000 an expert panel consisting of respected academics and jurists studied the historic census question indepth at the request of the former minister of industry by the way. Its report was finally released in December 2000 after access to information requests. Obviously its recommendations were not to the liking of Statistics Canada. The report was clear in calling for the release of the historic census records. Most important, it unequivocally rejected the claim of Statistics Canada that there ever was a guarantee that census records would be kept confidential in perpetuity.

We have heard a lot from Statistics Canada about the so-called Laurier promise, but despite further access to information requests, it has not produced a shred of evidence of such a commitment to perpetual confidentiality.

Was there a broken promise? Yes, there was, but it is not the one to which Statistics Canada refers. The broken promise is the one contained in the census instructions of 1911 and other years that followed. It state:

The census is intended to be a permanent record and its schedules will be stored in the Archives of the Dominion.

There is the promise. That is the promise that has been broken by a stubborn Statistics Canada bureaucracy that has overstepped its authority and has taken on responsibility that properly belongs to the National Archives of Canada. It is for the archives to determine what is historic information and whether it can or cannot be released to the general public in accordance with any existing laws such as the Privacy Act. That has never been the role Statistics Canada.

The recommendations of the expert panel and the Department of Justice confidential legal opinion were still not enough to convince Statistics Canada to do what was required of it by law. Instead, it stonewalled and delayed again and again. This time it engaged the polling firm of Environics to conduct town halls and focus groups across Canada this past December and January. I have nothing against public consultation, but there already was extensive public consultation by the expert panel. Do we keep asking the question until we get the answer that we want? Is that what it is trying to do?

Opinion at Environics town halls was overwhelmingly in support of the public release of historic census records. Only a handful of people spoke against release and from what we can tell, these people were specifically invited to attend to present an opposing view. Even they, in at least one case, admitted that there was no confidentiality commitments made with respect to the 1906 and the 1911 censuses that should prevent their release

Surely there have been enough studies and consultations on this matter that we do not need any further delays. Historical and legal aspects have been extensively addressed, public consultations have also been extensive, and in the House in September 2000 a motion expressed clearly that the 1911 records should be released. That was a motion from the House of Commons of Canada, and Statistics Canada is still ignoring that.

Britain recently posted its 1901 census data on the Internet and the servers crashed due to the excessive demand. In the United States censuses are released after 72 years. In other countries that also make this information available there is no evidence of non co-operation with censuses as a result of that nor of public complaints.

To me it is inconceivable that census instructions in the early 1900s would have stated so clearly that the census was intended to be a permanent record and its schedule stored in the archives of the Dominion. If that was not intended, if the permanent confidentiality were intended, surely instructions would have been ordered to destroy the records. Destruction was never specified in census instructions or legislation. Actually it would be an act of vandalism against this Canadian historic treasure if the destruction was carried out.

The National Archives of Canada Act and the regulations of the Privacy Act already specify that historic census records should be turned over to the archives and released to the public after 92 years. That is already law.

As some suggest, this is not a case of retroactive legislation. Bill C-312 provides a mechanism for the orderly transfer of historic census records from Statistics Canada to the national archives. It removes the ambiguity by which Statistics Canada has withheld this historic treasure from the Canadian people. Most important, by allowing individuals to object to the release of their personal information it responds to concerns about provincial privacy. No doubt everyone here has heard from Canadians inside and outside their constituencies about how important this bill is to their efforts to connect to the pasts of their families.

With this amount of interest, I would urge that this House agree to the unanimous consent to make Bill C-312 votable and I urge all members to support it.

Statistics ActRoutine Proceedings

March 28th, 2001 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-312, an act to amend the Statistics Act and the National Archives of Canada Act (census records).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to reintroduce a bill to allow the public release of the post-1901 census records. The bill is intended to amend the Statistics Act and the National Archives of Canada Act to allow the transfer of census records from Statistics Canada to the National Archives of Canada where records could be released to the public subject to the Privacy Act.

The main element of the bill, that census records be keep secret for 92 years and released to researchers after that time, is the key recommendation of the expert panel on the access to historical census records. That panel was established by the Minister of Industry, and its recommendations were released in December 2000.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)