Evidence of meeting #51 for Official Languages in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Connie Graziadei  Assistant Chief Statistician, Census, Operations and Communications, Statistics Canada
Johanne Denis  Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada
Larry Shute  Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry
Ronald Bisson  Senior Manager, Réseau national de formation en justice
Karine McLaren  Director, Centre de traduction et de terminologie juridiques, Faculté de droit, Université de Moncton, and member, Réseau national de formation en justice
Rénald Rémillard  Director General, Centre canadien de français juridique inc. et Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law inc., and member, Réseau national de formation en justice

11:30 a.m.

Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry

Larry Shute

In the weeks and months ahead, as part of the process for the development of the questions for the 2021 census, we will have discussions with StatsCan, the department, and officials from the minister's office and come to a recommendation on what to do.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

When did you start to look into the matter?

11:30 a.m.

Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry

Larry Shute

It's recently, in the past couple of months, as the committee has had its discussions and there have been newspaper and media articles. The department is certainly aware of it, as StatsCan officials are.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Fine.

Did you want to add something, Ms. Graziadei?

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Chief Statistician, Census, Operations and Communications, Statistics Canada

Connie Graziadei

Yes. We are setting up the consultations for the 2021 cycle. Statistics Canada is well aware of the issues regarding language-related information. That is why we are currently examining what could be done in 2021 that would allow us to meet that need for information.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Yes, I understand. Unless I am mistaken the Department of Industry establishes the priorities for the census questions. This is what we were told by a Statistics Canada representative who came before the committee. He said that Statistics Canada receives its directives and guidance from the Department of Industry, and that afterwards Statistics Canada uses scientific criteria to examine whether things apply or not.

Like all of my colleagues, I have some serious concerns. The Mahé ruling says quite clearly that we are not complying with the law at this time. We do not know the exact number of rights-holders, and that has some very serious consequences for minority communities. Consequently I think that what my colleagues want to hear is that the Department of Industry will as a priority give Statistics Canada the directive to refocus its efforts so that we respect the law.

Am I mistaken, Mr. Shute?

March 9th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.

Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry

Larry Shute

There are a couple of things. As Ms. Graziadei said, one is that the process of determining the questions that will go into the census, the consultation process, will be under way shortly. In general, on how to collect information in the best way, the most scientifically sound way—and there are alternative ways of collecting the information that you're looking for—Statistics Canada officials are the professional experts, and they make recommendations to the minister, saying that in the event that you need to collect this information or recommendations to the government, this is the approach they would recommend on a scientific basis, in their best professional judgment.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

What we hear from Statistics Canada is that there are a lot of requests in a lot of areas, be it the environment or other concerns. I understand all of that.

What I am asking you, and what it is important that we understand, is whether it is a priority for your department to determine the proper number of rights-holders and thus respect the Mahé decision.

11:35 a.m.

Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry

Larry Shute

There are many data priorities, many needs to collect statistical information on a wide range of subjects. Under the legislation that is now in place, the Statistics Act, which is in the process of being amended through Bill C-35, the issue is related to what information is collected being the responsibility of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. How that information is collected—the methodology for collecting it, the processes for collecting it, and how that is produced—are by tradition and by convention the responsibility of Statistics Canada.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

My next question is addressed to the Statistics Canada representatives.

Do I still have some time left, Mr. Chair?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Yes, you still have time to ask a brief question.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Earlier you spoke of several undertakings. Are issues regarding official languages prioritized in your activities? Are they the priority?

11:35 a.m.

Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

Johanne Denis

We are of course aware of the request, and we are examining it. As I said earlier, we have a framework to help us determine the content of the Census Program, which is proven, objective and scientific. We receive the requests and we classify them according to this framework. We understand the legislative requirement very well; we hear you. Using our processes, we will certainly examine that possibility. It will be included in our testing.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you.

Our next speaker is Mr. Lefebvre.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I am going to continue in the same vein as my colleague, Mr. Choquette. He referred to the Mahé affair, which concluded in 1990. There have been several censuses since then, and clearly the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada was not taken seriously in the censuses that followed.

You referred to a legislative requirement. In my opinion, in light of the charter and the ruling handed down in the Mahé case, it is, rather, a legal obligation. The charter grants rights to the rights-holders. The government has a legal obligation to comply.

I want to put the question to you quite directly: are you aware of the Mahé decision and of the obligations the Supreme Court imposed upon you?

11:35 a.m.

Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

Johanne Denis

We know the law. I will reiterate that we are aware of the needs in connection with the census. They are assessed and tested in a scientific and rigorous manner. I can't give you any other answer than that.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

I understand. I am not trying to trap you; that is not my intention.

11:35 a.m.

Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

Johanne Denis

I don't have the answer.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

You could just as well have responded that Statistics Canada was perhaps aware of the situation in the past, that this information has escaped you and that the question should be reviewed. That would not be a problem. I just want to be sure that, in the discussions in progress, as you said, this subject will indeed be examined and we won't simply say that perhaps we will do it.

In the opinion of the witnesses we have received in this committee, this isn't something that we might perhaps do if needed; this is a legal obligation. As a government, we have the obligation to do it, by virtue of the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada and of the charter. Otherwise, it could be argued that the census is anti-constitutional because it does not respect the charter.

I am not asking you to give me your opinion on this point, but I have to share this comment with you.

In the 2016 British Columbia case about education in French, the Supreme Court of British Columbia established that the data available was not good enough to justify the right to have French schools in certain regions of the province. It also said that if the data were better, it could make a different ruling and grant the right to go to school in French. Mr. Nater also spoke about the importance of the sample. The Supreme Court of British Columbia said that it would not be a post-census survey like the one done in 2006 that would give us a good sample, but rather a complete census of the population, which respects the charter.

I will leave it at that.

I yield the floor to Ms. Lapointe, who would like to ask some questions.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Lefebvre, for allowing me to have the rest of your time.

In the English-speaking community in my riding, I'm the only one from Quebec. Do you find you are looking for the minority English-speaking people? Are you also looking for them, not only for les francophones? Are you?

11:40 a.m.

Assistant Chief Statistician, Census, Operations and Communications, Statistics Canada

Connie Graziadei

Yes, we are.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

I have another question.

Do you have a list of all the questions that were tested, showing which ones were kept or rejected, as well as the reasons for these decisions? Would it be possible for you to submit this information to the committee?

11:40 a.m.

Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada

Johanne Denis

Yes, we have the reports on the tests. I can check on that.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

The idea would be to tell us what was rejected and what was kept during the preparation of the 2016 census, and to give the reasons. I would be grateful if you could provide us with this information.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

You may submit these results to the committee clerk.