An Act to amend the Statistics Act

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment removes a legal ambiguity in relation to access to census records made between 1910 and 2005. It allows unrestricted access to those records, beginning 92 years after the census was taken. Starting in 2006, the consent of Canadians is required in order for their census information to be released 92 years after the census is taken. The enactment provides for a parliamentary review of the administration of that requirement.

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 ActGovernment Orders

January 30th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by taking a moment to express my grief for the victims and family members of the terrorist attack in Quebec against our Muslim brothers and sisters. I know that all of my colleagues stand with me in solidarity with them at this terrible moment.

I am pleased to speak about one important particular amendment to Bill C-36, an act to amend the Statistics Act, which relates to the release of census records 92 years after any given census. Consistent with this government's commitment to open and accessible data, Bill C-36 proposes to remove the requirement to request consent before transferring census records to the Library and Archives Canada after 92 years, beginning with the 2021 census of population.

Researchers, historians, and genealogists require this information to conduct research to help us better understand our past and to build our future. There has been little opposition to the release of these records and as many other countries have come to understand, preserving information about our past is of great value.

The U.S., New Zealand, the U.K., and Australia are among many countries that preserve census records for release. In the U.S., the time lapse is 72 years. In New Zealand and the U.K., it is 100 years. In Australia, it is 99 years. Until recently, Australia's and New Zealand's census records were actually destroyed. Then they passed laws, in 2000 and 2005 respectively, to allow such records to be released. They recognized the value of these records. They did this after campaigns by networks of family historians, genealogists, and interested citizens.

In Canada, we are fortunate that there has never been a policy to destroy census records. The notion that such records provide valuable historical information has always been upheld in our country, Until 1993, census records were routinely released after various lengths of time, ranging from 70 years to 98 years, with no restrictions. In fact, it was not until requests for the release of the 1901 census records that an impasse over access arose.

It was noted that legislation at the time did not allow for the release of individual records from censuses after 1901 because of confidentiality provisions. On the other hand, the National Archives, heritage and genealogical groups, and others argued that census records constituted a national historic treasure that should be preserved. They argued they should be made available after a sufficient number of years for privacy concerns to no longer exist or hold sway. They believed 92 years to be in accordance with existing regulations in the Privacy Act.

Why 92 years? At the time that the Privacy Act was adopted in 1983, data from the 1891 census had yet to be released. To facilitate its release, the Privacy Act regulations included a provision for the release of census records after 92 years, the number of years between 1891 and 1983. That 92-year precedent was applied to the Statistics Act when a section about releasing census records was added as a result of the passage of Bill S-18 in 2005. The enactment required that Canadians consent to release their census records beginning with the 2006 census. It also provided for a parliamentary review of the administration of that requirement. The experience of the past three censuses indicate the support of Canadians for the release of census records after 92 years.

It is important to note here that in 1999, the hon. John Manley, the minister of industry, called for the creation of an expert panel on access to historical census records. That panel, which was chaired by a former Supreme Court justice, issued a report after an in-depth inquiry. It found no evidence that legislators in the early census days intended census records to perpetually be confidential. The panel recommended allowing public access after 92 years. The government at that time stated that this issue would be considered as part of the review of privacy legislation. In our view, the passage of Bill S-18 only partially resolved this issue.

Our government believes that census records constitute a national historic treasure and therefore should be preserved, and more importantly, should be released for research purposes after 92 years.

Census records are essential to understanding our society's past, present, and future, which cities like Brampton, the city I am from and represent, that have large immigrant populations, can definitely benefit from. There are so many Canadians who are desperate to find out more about their roots. That is why Bill C-36 proposes amendments to the Statistics Act to remove the requirement for consent for all census records, beginning in 2021.

As Canada becomes more diverse, cities like Brampton could use this historical data to see if policies made by previous governments reflected their populations. It would also help emerging cities compare their growth patterns to Brampton and better compare policies that did or did not work for their people.

Records for the 2006, 2011, and 2016 censuses, for which consent was required, would be released only if consent was given.

Two key considerations in deciding to include this amendment in the bill related to privacy concerns and response rates. On the privacy front, as in other countries, the proposed amendments strike a balance between the right to access and the right to privacy. We believe that 92 years is a sufficient lapse in time.

The other issue relates to the potential, however remote, for response rates to fall if people think the data will eventually be released. We are talking about more than nine decades after a person has taken the census. Experience has shown that the automatic transfer of census records after a sufficiently long period of time does not adversely affect census participation. Response rates to a census have remained high over time, whether or not consent was sought before the release of census records.

In making this change, we are ensuring that researchers can eventually access what many consider a national historic treasure, a treasure that may help us understand both our own individual lineage and the evolving social fabric of our country.