House of Commons Hansard #139 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry, but there is no time left on the clock. I will give the hon. member for Dewdney—Alouette a minute to respond, if he wishes.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will simply sum up by saying that my colleague from Wild Rose is one the hardest working members of Parliament. Whatever his critic's role is, he travels the country, whether it is in his role as Solicitor General critic, when he travels to visit the prisons, or whether it is in working with the Indian affairs department, when he visits across the country talking to people.

He knows what he is talking about, and in this situation he is talking about his own family. He has highlighted the fact that when a government makes something a priority, like the United States has with military housing, it makes a difference, and that if our government were to do that it would make a difference in the lives of our personnel here at home. It needs to be done.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to Standing Order 38, it is my duty to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Windsor West, Public Safety; the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, Health.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, to speak to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

One of the most important themes of the bill is that it would improve the quality of life of those individuals who serve in our military and, whether they are reservists or not, they have the right and entitlement to pursue good employment and living standards. The bill would assist them in their pensionable earnings and give them a higher quality of life once their service is completed.

I would like to touch on a recent experience that hammers home the importance for us to show leadership and support for our military personnel. I attended the recent commissioning of HMCS Windsor in Halifax, the submarine that will soon go on its first mission to the Bahamas. I was there to show my support for our men and women in service who will be putting themselves at risk. Our community is steadfastly behind them and supporting them, whether it be in correspondence, in goods or in having them come to our city if they cannot be with the submarine itself to view it themselves, so that quality of life is enhanced.

The pensionable improvement in the bill shows that we can as a country afford things that will instill confidence and provide some sense of security in our military personnel. That has been lacking. When we look at quality of life we define it in many different ways. It could be housing for example. We have heard a lot of discourse about the housing conditions for our men and women in the service and what they have to endure on the bases and that their involvement in terms of creating their own communities is often not ideal. They do not have the standard of living that we should be proud of as Canadians. We know we can do better but we have not. I believe we have been making the wrong choices on where to allocate our resources. That is a simple thing we can do to increase the quality of life of our service personnel living in those residences.

Pay is another issue, although when people enter the service their number one priority for entering is not necessarily the pay but that they want to serve their country and ensure that we have freedom and democracy, not only here but around the world. However the pay is something that is important because they have families and their families depend upon having earners who will provide the means so that they can make choices in the future. Whether it be a different education path, experiences, family vacations, personal growth, investments or opportunities, they need those aspects behind them. That certainly has not happened in the past 10 years in terms of the amount that they have been receiving. It certainly should be more and we have been supporting that.

The government has shown that it has not done a good job of providing the right infrastructure investments. We know for a fact that there are helicopters, ships, jeeps and planes that we have to look at in terms of the cost that we will have to pay to provide the right tools and resources.

I know we discussed the fact that we are not a superpower like the United States. I do not think Canadians are comparing themselves to that. They are asking for a government that will provide the adequate support, equipment and tools so that people can be trained, have good morale and we can actually have an element of pride coming not only from the people serving but also from the citizens who are backing them.

That leadership has been lacking. We should not be looking at item after item and what is coming up. We should be showing some leadership, but I do not think that has happened.

We have made those choices. The former minister of finance decided to provide $100 billion worth of tax cuts. We wonder where the money is coming from. We know where it went. We will need to make some very difficult decisions because we have lost those revenues and resources. I think the choices should have been different, and this is a good example.

The pension funds would provide people with some confidence and, I believe, convince youth to enlist and members of the forces to stay in the service because there will be amendments.

It is quite correctly noted that the improvement in pension benefits is driven to some extent by the desire not only to improve the quality of persons currently serving in the Canadian Forces but to assist in the recruitment of new personnel. I think that is important.

I have spoken a number of times about the challenges youth will face because of the lack of direction we have had over the last 10 years. Our youth are concerned about pensions. Many people who are currently employed have vulnerable pensions, such as the employees at Air Canada and other corporations where pensions have not been funded correctly.

We have another group of young Canadians, which goes directly to this issue, coming out of school a lot later in life and more in debt. Because they begin working later in life their pensionable earning years will be greatly reduced, which creates a challenging environment for them. They may not have a sustainable pension to retire early and live out their dreams. Like most Canadians, after working hard they want to retire with dignity. I believe it is important for the bill to provide more security because young people will be faced with this issue more and more.

It is quite a sleeper out there because we have not seen the first wave through, and we will. Over the next 20 years we will see a lot of vulnerable people who will not have the years needed for an appropriate pension. The bill would certainly be an improvement.

However the bill does raise a couple of questions about the pensions and the way they will be set up. It deals with how the government has handled the whole Canadian pension fund. We know for a fact that 30% of these funds can go overseas for investment. The other funds will be invested in Canada. The government will not agree to an ethics screen or a green screen on where those pensionable earnings go. Quite literally, we could have men and women, who have paid into the pension plan, go to places where they have either served against regimes or have seen terrible situations with human rights issues. We do not know, because they only have to report back once every two years to the Minister of Finance himself. I do not believe that is an acceptable situation.

We need to show confidence. According to the new section 25(4) of the act as amended by clause 15, it states that if a contributor with two or more years of pensionable service dies, the survivor and children will receive the annual allowances. After 10 years or more of pensionable service, individuals released from the military for health reasons because they are no longer able to perform their duties would be entitled to an immediate pension.

I congratulate the government and all members of the House who support this because this builds confidence.

We can do things that make sense and that give confidence. At the same time we have to battle it out, like the VI program for veterans' widows who do not get the support they need to keep them in their homes. It is actually a saving to the whole system but the government cannot find the funds to do that. We have a bill here where we can find the funds, which is a good thing, but why can we not find the funds for other things?

I will conclude by saying that this is a small positive step forward. I will not get into all the other different things on which we have wasted our money. If governments make the right decisions and invest in people, instead of tax cuts, we can build a nation that will be much better off in the future.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has been a fairly broad ranging debate today. The member talked about investing in people. I have been concerned about the way the military itself has dealt with the reserves and the cadets. Both of those are very much people organizations of the military in terms of pension type support and other support.

Would my colleague care to comment on the role of the reserves and the cadets and, in particular, how they are treated by the military hierarchy?

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's question relates to an individual employed in my office, Mr. Andrew Sadler, who is part of that whole situation between reserves and cadets. He has done a great job of adding that component to his life, and that expertise has helped the service of my office by far. This individual has had the opportunity to participate, to make choices and to build friendships, not only in the place where he lived but in our local constituency.

I believe the reserves and cadets deserve proper respect and encouragement that can build the nation. For young individuals to be involved in an organization from the grassroots all the way to the top is very important. It builds a long established relationship of protocol and an understanding of history.

As a former city councillor the one thing I have seen is that our municipal services lost a number of very experienced individuals who retired early because of cuts and downloading. We lost their mentorship and a world of knowledge.

Where I believe we can be really effective in terms of having not only highly trained professionals but a competent and very informed group of people in the reserves and cadets is by providing them with better opportunities so we can prosper as a nation. I think they would add a lot more to the nation if they were given the opportunities.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Liberalfor the Minister of Industry

moved: that Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to present Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act, for second reading today.

Bill S-13 is of interest to many of our constituents. Historical census records are a key tool for historical researchers and genealogists and remain the most commonly used records in family and historical research. There has been much debate over the last few years about access to the post-1901 historical census records. I am sure that you have all received correspondence or seen media articles on this matter.

Bill S-13 provides reasonable access to historical census records and meets the needs of genealogists and historians for information on their families and communities. The bill also puts appropriate safeguards in place to protect the privacy of individuals. Bill S-13 achieves an acceptable balance of these two competing public goods. I am pleased that a solution has been found to the difficult problem of balancing access to our historical census records with protecting the privacy of Canadians.

The underlying problem regarding historical census records is that there has been legal ambiguity about the confidential status of historical census records. As such, Bill S-13 is designed to remove the legal ambiguity that currently exists with post-1901 census records.

First of all, I would like to explain to the House why this legislation does not cover the 1906 census records. The government released the 1906 census without restriction on January 24, 2003. The 1906 census records were released without condition given the special nature of that census. Only tombstone information was collected and the 1906 census was limited to three provinces— Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Unlike the 1906 census, the 1911 and subsequent censuses contain very sensitive information.

The purpose of Bill S-13 is to make the 1911 and later census records available for historical and genealogical research.

The bill would allow historians and genealogists to have access to historical census records, under certain conditions, beginning 92 years after the census took place. The census records would become available without restriction after 112 years.

The bill also seeks to clarify the position with respect to future census records by asking respondents to consent to the eventual release of their information. The bill contains a provision to allow Canadians, beginning with the 2006 census. to consent to the eventual public release of their personal census information, 92 years later. Some of you may question why there are conditions attached to the release of these historical census records, while others may say that these records should be permanently closed to protect the privacy of Canadians.

Bill S-13 is a compromise. As in any compromise, there has been give and take. Bill S-13 represents ground given on the access side and ground given on the protection side by both the Chief Statistician of Canada and the National Archivist.

On the protection side, informed consent by Canadians will govern the release of future censuses starting with the 2006 census. On the release side, it is unrestricted access after 112 years for censuses taken between 1911 and 2001.

Bill S-13 provides genealogists and historical researchers with access for genealogical, scholarly, cultural or educational purposes beginning 92 years after the census took place. After 112 years, the records will be fully released. Wile this legislation puts conditions on release of information for twenty years, it is important to have such safeguards in place to protect the privacy of Canadians. In fact, this legislation goes beyond the Privacy Act and provides an additional 20 years of privacy protection.

One of the most important sections in Bill S-13 is its provision for Canadians to give informed consent to the release of their census information in the future. Starting with the 2006 census, Canadians will be asked to decide if they will allow their personal census information to be released publically after 92 years. Individual census records would be released only where consent is given. To allow Canadians to decide in future censuses whether others can have access to their personal census records is in keeping with the highest standards of privacy protection. This is the heart of the compromise as it will ensure the willing cooperation of Canadians with future censuses which is so essential for a successful census. This continued trust by Canadians is a cornerstone of Statistics Canada.

I think it is fair to say that the bill meets the needs of historians and genealogists while protecting the privacy of Canadians.

In summary, the bill will permit access to the 1911 to 2001 census records, 92 years after a census was taken. Access will be subject to specific conditions.

Genealogists, professional or amateur, or their authorized representatives would agree in advance that they would release only tombstone information pertaining to their own family members. Subject to this release condition, access for genealogical purposes would be unrestricted. Tombstone information is defined as name, address, age, sex, marital status, origin and occupation.

Historical researchers would have the public and scientific nature of their proposed research confirmed by appropriate peers or community leaders prior to starting their work. Again, while access would be unrestricted, only tombstone information could be released.

The conditions would be in effect for a 20-year period following the release of the historical census records 92 years after the census. After 112 years, the conditions would be removed, and access and release would be permitted.

The bill will allow Canadians to decide, starting with the 2006 census, whether they allow their personal census information to be made publically available 92 years after the census. Starting with 2098, access to 2006 census records would be made publically available only when consent has been given at the time of collection.

Access to census records as specified in the legislation would be achieved by using existing access mechanisms of the Library and Archives of Canada, formerly known as the National Archives. These conditions are neither onerous nor restrictive for genealogists and historians.

I would also like to assure the House that the legislative change in the Statistics Act does not impact on any of Statistic Canada's other surveys. The census is the only survey where identifiable personal records are microfilmed or scanned and kept in perpetuity.

In closing, I want to say that this bill is a reasonable compromise. As I mentioned at the start of my speech, this bill is a solution to the difficult problems of balancing access to our historical census records with protecting the privacy of Canadians. This bill fully ensures the integrity of census-keeping in Canada.

It will ensure the public's continued cooperation with and trust in Statistics Canada with regard to its censuses and other surveys.

I ask the House to support this bill.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, as correctly identified, Bill S-13 attempts to strike a balance between access to data and confidentiality. Well noted in the details was the concept of enlightened consent for 2006.

I was the chair of the complete count committee for Windsor and Essex County for the 2000 census. It was critical to get reliable data because as a country we make a lot of decisions about where we spend money and resources on census data. It was important that the data was very thorough, was very strong and was as good as it possibly could be. To do that, we had to build up public confidence. We had to go door to door, as one of six places in Ontario, to ensure that confidence, especially when we were dealing with multicultural communities where people who had come from abroad were being counted for the first time not only in numbers but also in very personal and sensitive information. Canadians in general are very concerned about privacy matters, whether they be in the government itself or outside in the private sector.

My concern is about the way the government has handled the next stage of Canada's census by outsourcing it to Lockheed Martin. I believe it would create a real crisis for Canadians to give information about themselves, their families and their lifestyles to a multinational arms manufacturing company that could quite literally have been responsible, if they had come from another country, for damaging their property, injuring them or killing a neighbour or a family friend with products that the company actually sells abroad to a number of different nations.

My concern is that we would witness a slow erosion of the confidence. To instill that confidence again, will we cancel that contract that is due in 2004 by Lockheed Martin and do it in house? It is not acceptable to say that we have no control over this because of NAFTA and the fact that it is an American multinational corporation that is an arms manufacturer and can bid just like anybody else. It does not have to do that because we can do it in house as we have done before.

Will the parliamentary secretary work with me to ensure that Canadians are doing this job and that it is in house so we can restore the confidence in our census data?

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Windsor West for his question.

Today we are debating a bill for the purpose of correcting a situation. Historians and genealogists will be given access to information for their family or others in order to put together material to show Canadians, or anyone else, 92 years later, the origins of people who were born or living in Canada with consent from the person participating in the census.

If Canadians mistrust Statistics Canada or the company that might be conducting the census, they could simply sign a document indicating that they do not want this personal information to be disclosed until 112 years later.

Let us not confuse the bill as it stands today, Bill S-13, with the contract that has been awarded. Let us be clear that contracts awarded by the government are tendered. A statement of work is drafted and standards are followed. There are also well-disclosed selection criteria. It is open to everyone.

Our legislation requires us, in North America and under NAFTA, to open our market to everyone. Calls for tenders cannot be limited strictly to Canadian or local firms. We are required to open our market.

Signing an international agreement means that one agrees to respect the document and the conditions agreed to. In this case, I trust the Government of Canada. Calls for tenders have been made; that is one thing.

Today, what worries us specifically is the high number of citizens, genealogists and historians who have phoned me and whom I have met with in my office. I am sure that all parliamentarians have met with people in their office who asked, “Why are we denied access to the famous 1901 census and the censuses for subsequent years?”

At the time, disclosure standards were probably shorter to protect the privacy of Canadians. Now, we want to give historians and genealogists access to all the censuses, while ensuring that privacy is protected.

We are telling people that nothing can be released before 112 years. To have information released after 92 years, consent will be required. It will be possible for individuals to consent to the release of tombstone information, such as name, sex, origin, occupation, after 92 years.

This is the sole focus of the bill, which is redressing a certain inequity. Historians sometimes retrace the history of a region or village. Every year, there are villages celebrating their 125th, 150th or 200th anniversary, and we want to know who built these villages. Often, a local historian wants to find out who the founding families were, among other things.

In order to retrace the history of a region, province, country or family, access to certain information is necessary. We are fortunate enough to have an organization by the name of Statistics Canada, which carries out censuses on a regular basis, so that the information is always up to date. Through this organization, historians and those interested in history can have access to such information.

This is important, and this bill gives all these specialists access to this information while at the same time protecting the privacy of Canadians.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry for an excellent speech on Bill S-13.

I want to state what the feedback has been from my constituents. I remember the first person was from the Porter Creek part of Whitehorse and was against the bill. That person was worried about privacy. All subsequent submissions since then have been in favour. The ones I remember were trying to research their family history. They have no way of doing that as early as would be required without the bill. It gives protection for 92 or 112 years, depending upon the situation.

Is the parliamentary secretary confident that the bill protects the privacy of the first person I was talking about for sufficient time, but also allows people to do research on their family history?

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for Yukon for his question.

It is important that members of Parliament can ask questions in order to clarify a bill. Few people, in fact, even members of the public, read a bill or an act clause by clause. Instead we rely on experts, lawyers and other people. At least, here in the House, questions from the hon. members give the minister or the parliamentary secretary an opportunity for further explanation.

Bill S-13 does, in fact, protect private information. If a person does not want private information released, as of the 2006 census, that person need only sign a form stating that this information is private and cannot be released until 112 years have passed. We will certainly not be here in 112 years to debate this act again.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill S-13. This bill has been a long time coming. Members of the Canadian Alliance have answered hundreds of letters and have received many petitions concerning the release of census data over the last three years.

My colleague, the member for Edmonton Southwest, is the official opposition critic for census records and his offices receive letters almost daily on this issue since it left the Senate. I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of my colleague from Edmonton Southwest on this issue, as well as my colleagues from Calgary Southeast and Peace River who have also had a great deal of input and hard work on this bill and on this issue as well.

The Canadian Alliance voted unanimously in favour of the motion by the member for Calgary Southeast which 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 shepherded this issue through our caucus when it first came up in 2001.

As we all know, 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 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 first 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.

The problem, as I understand it, is the nature of the census data or one of the issues that we are bringing forward. Statistics Canada strives to protect the integrity of the information it gathers. In Canada we have kept census information secret for a long period of time after the data is initially collected. We have kept census information secret for 92 years on average. That is 28 years longer than in the United States and eight years shorter than in the United Kingdom. In my opinion, 92 years is a reasonable period of time to keep information under wraps, so to speak.

At the turn of the century some 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. It may have led some Canadians to believe that their information would be kept secret forever. Obviously that is not the case.

This 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 attempts to reach 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 this bill be passed in a single sitting. The Canadian Alliance, the official opposition, could not agree to such a course of action for three reasons that I will now touch on.

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

As I understand it, the only information that will be released after 92 years is what is often referred to as tombstone information, basic information: name, address, age, date of birth, marital status, sex and 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, ranging from the mental state of members of one's family to the type of private company one keeps, questions that understandably Statistics Canada would like to treat gently and that Canadians have concerns about in terms of the privacy issues.

One has to wonder if the questions that need to be treated differently need to be asked at all. That is a point of debate as well. Nevertheless, the Alliance is hoping to clarify why there would only be a partial release of information, especially since researchers would be required to fill out an application in order to access this information.

That brings me to my second point. The lion's share of this bill deals with section 17 of the Statistics Act which governs secrecy. As I understand it, the information released after 92 years would be reviewed by those who fill out an application to view the records. There would be two separate sets of researchers allowed to access census records after 92 years, genealogists and historians.

Genealogists would be required to fill out a very simple form and their qualifications, to the best of my knowledge, would not be reviewed. Historians, however, would have to be vouched for. According to the draft regulations proposed to cabinet, persons applying to conduct historical research would 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 who can approve historical research are presidents or faculty deans of universities, senior elected community officials such as a mayor or a reeve, president of an ethnic or cultural association, a member of Parliament, a senator, a member of the provincial legislature, senior clergy, a native chief, a chief librarian, provincial archivist, the national archivist of Canada and the chief statistician of Canada. Clearly, this list of people who can approve access to census information should be included in the bill.

Taking a member of Parliament as an example, many people may ask about our qualifications in assessing the public and scientific value of proposed research. Members of Parliament are busy, as are their staff members. In addition to being seen as unqualified by some in this regard, it could take us a long time to respond to requests from historical researchers which may affect their research.

Further to the release of information, there is a section of the bill which states that with the 2006 census, those people filling out the census would have to give their consent at the time they fill out the census forms for the information to be disclosed after 112 years. This section is a bit puzzling. It is the subject about which our critic's office has received the most amount of mail, with concerns about this particular aspect of the bill.

Will there be a campaign to educate people about this clause? Is it a one time offer? Can a person go back and change his or her decision? Who is allowed to check the consent box for children? How many people does the government expect may opt out of a public release? If more than 50% of Canadians choose to keep their census records secret until the end of the time period, how would that skew the other 49% of records that are released? How much would it cost Canadians to administer and keep these records secret? These are all questions that need to be answered. They are not clearly laid out in the bill in its current state.

Finally, we wonder why we need to create a new bureaucracy to police this endeavour of trying to obtain access to census information. A form is being created for those who wish to conduct research on census information. As I have outlined, that could create a whole new level of bureaucracy.

Reading the speech from Liberal Senator Lorna Milne, the champion of the bill, she states, “The government does not want to make it difficult to conduct historical and genealogical research”. If that were the case, the government would not be imposing new and complicated procedures in order to access census information. It is my experience that regulations and forms make things more difficult, not easier.

As the opposition, we therefore must ask, has the government conducted a cost benefit analysis on these new regulations? Does the government have any idea how many people would be applying to review these records? How is the government going to police the use of these records? Will there be fines or jail time for those who misuse their privileges?

The Canadian Alliance will be proposing amendments to this bill. Many of them will focus on the questions that have been raised in my speech today and which have been championed by my colleague from Edmonton.

One of the most important questions facing the House is how much time is appropriate to respect the privacy rights of those who have completed census forms. Today the average life expectancy of Canadian males is 75 years and of females is 81 years. In all likelihood our personal information will not be made available until long after we are gone.

The Canadian Alliance believes that 92 years of secrecy is sufficient 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 the subject. In fact the Canadian Alliance is very concerned about the breadth and scope of the current census forms. Many of us know people who have heard from constituents who feel the long form of the census asks for too much personal information.

Statistics Canada is the 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 analysis in a timely manner, but that is a debate for another day.

I want to close my comments by thanking members for the opportunity to discuss these issues. I realize it has taken a long time to create this bill. Many consultations have taken place. I cannot support this bill in its current form unless it is amended and many of the questions that I have addressed and the official opposition has addressed are answered in the process.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member's remarks. Yes, this question has come up in every riding office because we have historical and genealogy societies which, in the past, have lobbied repeatedly to get us to authorize the release of such data.

With respect to the time periods used in other countries, one example is the United States, where participation is mandatory and release permitted after 72 years. That is the number of years the files remain confidential before being made public. In the United Kingdom, it is the same thing, but the period is 100 years. In Australia it is 99 years. In France they are talking about 100 years. In Canada the proposal is for 92 years for the censuses previous to those mentioned in the bill.

Considering the whole concept of protection of confidential information, is it not true that the time periods established by this bill correspond to those found in many other places and would be sufficient protection for personal information?

I believe my hon. colleague said that he and his party could not support this bill. Is he aware that, with a decision like that, if the House were to reject the bill, we would be in a situation where, for many years yet, historical researchers and genealogists would be deprived of important sources of information? And yet the bill before us today appears to meet the minimum conditions necessary for protection of confidential information in our society.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, obviously my colleague has spent a great deal of time on this issue. He has had a number of constituents with concerns, as we all have. They have come to us wanting access to information for a number of different reasons. This bill lays out much of that information.

My colleague's question is mainly focused on the time aspect. We believe 92 years is an appropriate amount of time. I believe 112 years is being outlined in the current bill. There seems to be a balance between privacy and the release of information.

At the same time, one of the bigger concerns is the two-pronged approach to access to the records for someone looking at census data for genealogical purposes versus someone looking at the information for historical research. There is a dual track system that is going to limit historians' access to the information in that they will have to fill out more forms, which may include taking up more of our time as members of Parliament, as outlined in my speech.

I do think that 92 years is an appropriate period of time that should be in place for the release of all the information. There should not be the 92 year and 112 year time periods in the bill. It should be 92 years for the release of that information.

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5:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the interesting aspects of the bill is that it is correcting a mistake. It corrects an oversight which did not quite align to what we have right now. That is why we have a number of different changes with Bill S-13 which will clarify what could have been done before.

One of the comments of the member is a concern that I have heard from other people that too much information is being gathered in new census data. This goes back to an important issue which is the confidentiality and the reliability of the data.

How does the member feel about Lockheed Martin winning the contract for future census gathering? The bill does talk about that. There is enlightened consent for the new data. We could be setting ourselves up for another problem that the bill is correcting right now. My concern is that is what the contract is going to do and this bill crosses over into that.

This is going to provide some good improvements. We have heard some great arguments that deal with the sensitivity about privacy and also what historians and genealogists need to do. At the same time, the government's actions by not insourcing to Statistics Canada and putting it out to private tender to Lockheed Martin is going to potentially repeat a problem and cause us some great concern.

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5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises a grave issue, one which he has raised in the House before. It is one that has been asked during question period a number of times and one that has not been answered by the government. We do not know why that is, or we do know why and part of the reason is that it is called question period, not answer period. It is a rare day when we actually get an answer to that kind of question. It would be a good question to further probe the government on that contract.

The first point my colleague mentioned was the information that is gathered and the sensitivity of that information. Canadians do have concerns about the sensitivity of information that is gathered through the census by Statistics Canada. One of the questions that comes up is should one give consent now for information to be released, how does that impact changes in questions that are asked at a later date?

As I mentioned in my speech, is that a one time thing? What if the forms change and people are not comfortable with releasing the information gathered later on down the road? These are questions that have been left floating out there that we cannot quite put our finger on because they have not been outlined or answered by the government at this point. Hopefully we will get to those issues during this debate and also in further examination of the bill. We will be putting forward some amendments to address those questions.

My colleague asked a good question. I would like to hear what the government has to say. I wish it would actually answer that rather than skate around it.

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what my colleague had to say. I also listened carefully to his second last answer.

This debate is the culmination of a very remarkable campaign across the country for change in the way census information is released. People who were involved professionally, people in the public service, professional historians and others, came to us and explained this complicated matter that there had been a rule that information was not being released and that it should be. That was followed by this remarkable grassroots campaign from genealogists.

Genealogists is a fancy term but it includes most of us some of the time, people who have a great interest in their own family's history or their region's history. I presented petitions. I met with people in my riding. To give some idea, at the farmer's market people would stop me and ask what progress was being made with the release of these census facts.

I listened very carefully to my colleague opposite but I still do not understand what he and his party propose to do. If they could change this, what would they do for the genealogists and professional historians who play such an important role in nurturing the culture of our nation? Would he care to comment on that? What is he going to do for these genealogists?

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5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague brings up some good questions. He has been involved in this issue and has some expertise in this area.

One of the questions that we have on this side of the House is, why is there a two-prong approach to access the information? Genealogists are filling out a simple form and historians must go through a more rigorous process to have access to that very same information. That is one of the concerns that we have.

One of the other main concerns is the time limit on the release of the information. My understanding is that there are two time periods: 92 years and 112 years, both within the same bill. Why is there that particular discrepancy? The Alliance believes that 92 years would safeguard information for people and be appropriate. That would be my response to my colleague.

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5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this bill entitled an act to amend the Statistics Act.

For many years, historical societies, genealogists and students, conducting various types of research, have been saying that they are facing a huge obstacle, because previous legislation failed to limit how long census information would be kept confidential.

Much time has been needed to analyze and study this issue. Now a bill is before the House. Our society is greatly concerned with the protection of privacy. This reaction is quite understandable.

On one hand, archivists, historians, genealogists and others are interested in historical research and data collected by Statistics Canada. The National Statistics Council and the Privacy Commissioner are among those who initially opposed the release of such information.

As legislators, we need to balance both sides to ensure that this bill does indeed provide sufficient protection of personal information and also allow historians and archivists to do their jobs adequately.

In Canada, there is a long established practice which states that:

All individual census records, up to and including those from the 1901 Census, have been transferred from Statistics Canada to the National Archives and made available for public use. The data for the 1891 and the 1901 Censuses were transferred and released 92 years after their collection.

Hence the minimum waiting period established for the use of information. However, as I mentioned earlier, those using this type of information disagree.

The minister appointed a committee of experts to consider such issues. I want to mention, for example, this committee on which Mr. Justice La Forest, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, sat. He carefully considered the various opinions expressed. He concluded that this guarantee of confidentially was not intended to last indefinitely. He stated:

Our view is that the passage of 92 years is sufficient time to allay concerns regarding individual privacy.

Consequently, the committee addressed this issue and had to assess how to strike a balance between protecting personal information and disclosing information for the purposes of studying history and the past, in order to ensure that our culture in Quebec and Canada would be known in the future under acceptable conditions.

I remember representations, in particular by Jeannine Ouellette, who was very active in the Société d'histoire et de généalogie de Rivière-du-Loup and by people from the Société d'histoire de la Côte-sud. Ms. Ouellette was also heavily involved in a Quebec-wide coalition of genealogical and historical societies.

These representations were made on many occasions to show us that it is not a question of allowing the wholesale use of personal information or of creating a precedent for the future, which would be dangerous, but of having proper guidelines. We believe that is what Bill S-13 provides.

The committee that studied this issue said it was convinced that legislators had probably not wished or intended to provide an indefinite guarantee of confidentiality. Nonetheless, conservation and release dates had been omitted, not because there was opposition to them, but because with the scientific knowledge at the time, the need for such a measure had not been anticipated.

In any event, no law is forever. There is always room to reconsider legislation in the light of reality as it evolves. That is what we are doing today with Bill S-13.

The committee reported, and I quote:

We have reviewed legal opinions provided to Statistics Canada and to the National Archives by the Department of Justice and we recognize that legal minds can differ regarding the legal standing of various assurances given respondents versus the indication that records were to be transferred to the Archives. However, while we find the legal situation ambiguous, we find no convincing evidence that Parliament intended to create perpetual confidentiality.

We have come to the view that the release of pre-1906 census records constitutes a particularly important precedent particularly when combined with the fact that release of the 1891 and 1901 census records occurred in concert with the 1983 Privacy Act. We further believe that the passage of time—92 years in this case—is an important legal and moral consideration and that the release of census records after 92 years in no way violates the original intent of those who developed the census in Canada. We do recognize that the passage of the Statistics Act in 1918, with its encoded guarantees of confidentiality, adds an element of uncertainty as does the disappearance, after 1946, of the requirement that census records be transferred to the National Archives but this does not change our view of the spirit and intent.

On the basis of this analysis and the information provided in it, the 92-year period referred to is the timeframe applicable, when consent has been provided to use the information, to some of the information that can be used for research purposes. For any information concerning a person, it is 112 years. If consent is refused—one may not want the information to be used—the information is then protected forever. No problem there.

Let us come back to the 92-year period. I think that, in this kind of situation, it is important to see how other countries are doing. In most countries where historical census records are released, personal and confidential information is protected for a period of 70 to 100 years, after which the records enter into the public domain.

In Canada, this period of confidentiality varied before enactment of the Privacy Act. Now, however, it sets the period at 92 years. In other countries, such as the U.S., participation in the census is mandatory. There is provision for release after 72 years. The period in the U.K. is 100 years, Australia 99 years, and France 100 years, but a partial release for only a few cantons. This is a peculiarity of the French census. In Canada, as I said, the period is 92 years. It is a bit hard to explain how they came up with that figure, but it seems to have been the time lapse that would have allowed immediate release of the 1891 census data when the legislation was passed in 1983. This strikes us as a worthwhile timeframe.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the principle behind Bill S-13, because we feel it respects the right to privacy. It demonstrates great respect for those concerned. There is no question of allowing the release of information. The timeframes are set. Given people's life spans and the protection afforded, we feel that this strikes the necessary balance between protecting people's privacy and research requirements.

In concrete terms, Bill S-13 amends the Statistics Act. It was initiated in the Senate, then referred to a Senate committee, and now this is its first time to be debated in the House. We have now reached second reading. It has, however, likely been discussed in all MPs' offices already. Historical and genealogical societies have come to us on numerous occasions to set out what they wanted for the genealogists, who often do research on a volunteer basis. All they need, therefore, is information with which to put together a history of a family or a village. This is the kind of data they need.

For these reasons, we believe that this bill offers a satisfactory way of proceeding. It amends the Statistics Act and attempts to dissipate the legal ambiguity surrounding viewing of census returns from 1910 to 2003. Because of the existing legislation, it was not very clear that such data really could be a released. There have been court cases; but as legislators, we now have an opportunity to settle the issue.

The bill would enable genealogists and historical researchers to consult census returns under certain conditions, for a period of 20 years beginning 92 years after the census. Thus, 92 years after the census, research can begin, under certain specific conditions for a period of 20 years. All restrictions regarding examination of the returns will be lifted 112 years after the date of the census. This period is long enough. Considering the life expectancy of the people covered by a census, it is quite certain that all those individuals will have died by that time. Thus, we will avoid situations where releasing information could create complications.

If we look at the bill in more detail, we see that the new section 17(4) permits a person wishing to conduct genealogical or historical research, who has obtained written approval—it is good that this is specified—to examine census data.

The bill states that section 17 is amended by adding the following:

(5) In deciding whether to approve a historical research project, a person must assess the public and scientific value of the research.

Thus, it cannot be just anyone doing anything at all. There are approvals to obtain; requests must be serious. There is no question of authorizing frivolous proposals.

Conditions governing the use and disclosure of census data apply if a person wishes to obtain authorization for genealogical or historical research. Persons wishing such to examine such records must sign and comply with an undertaking in prescribed form. Anyone who might behave in such as way as to not be in compliance with the law would have to face the consequences, having made a commitment to respect the conditions set out.

In fact, anyone not respecting his or her undertaking is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000. This will avoid frivolous searches and will ensure the very serious nature of any studies carried out.

At any rate, historical and genealogical societies throughout Quebec and Canada are very well known for the serious nature of what they do and the quality of the research they produce. They enable us to become familiar with a slice of history that would not otherwise have been known. Often discoveries are made on how certain issues have evolved, ones with real significance for the present and the future. This can stop us from having to reinvent the wheel, among other things.

It is also important to note that subclause 17(7) indicates that, starting one hundred andtwelve years after the census is taken, the information may beexamined by anyone. At that time, the time limit will be up and all information availablemay be consulted.

As well, under 17(8), the information contained in the returnsof any census of population taken in 2006 orlater may, starting ninety-two years after thecensus is taken, be examined by anyone if theperson to whom the information relates had given their consent todisclosure of that information.For censuses after 2006, or in other words the next Canada census, consent must definitely be given if the data is to be made available after 92 years. If consent to disclose personal information is not given by the person concerned, the information will never be made public.

This bill remedies some situations that were unclear in the past, as well as clarifying the situation for the future, which is a good thing. It is a response to the wishes of those who want to see personal information protected when the person concerned has not authorized disclosure. On the other hand, when authorization has been given, there will be appropriate time frames which will make it possible to carry out appropriate research.

New subsection 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 in a single location.

In light of the information I have provided, the Bloc Quebecois finds that Bill S-13 allows important historical information to be studied after an acceptable statutory timeframe. Consequently, in principle, we are in favour of Bill S-13.

It will also help to extend Quebec's common history. Access for archivists and historians, after a period of 92 years, will allow the production of better historical documents that enrich the cultural heritage of Quebec and Canada. Often, one must refer to the interpretation of a period of our history, of our past. With clear rules, a historian will be able to look for the most accurate information possible. There are always political debates on questions of interpretation, but the facts will be there and the public will be able to make a clear decision for itself.

Many experts maintain that census documents are essential to historical and genealogical research. I think they are right. But where do we draw the line between privacy and the need for historical knowledge? The Bloc Quebecois feels that while the right to privacy has to be respected, census information should not be subject to perpetual confidentiality. We would be denying ourselves essential information. For a few years now, historical and genealogical societies have taken all sorts of initiatives that have led to this bill, while ensuring the protection of personal information. This bill will allow both objectives to be met.

With the passage of time, respondents' concerns about protecting their privacy will diminish. Obviously some information can create problems for the living. But once people have passed away and the next generation is in place, there would no longer be a problem because of the timeframe set out in the bill. After an appropriate period of time, the public's right to access census files overrides respondents' rights to privacy, if indeed this timeframe is protected.

Given that the data are not harmful to those still living and that releasing such data cannot harm them, we feel that historical and scientific repercussions 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. The data could be released after 92 years or more often after 112 years. Beginning with the 2006 Census, personal information could be protected forever if people so choose.

The Bloc Quebecois does not believe that the dead do not have the right to privacy protection, but 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 data collected during a census are not confidential and those that are, such as income, can lose some of their confidential nature over time.

Despite the guarantees of confidentially made to the respondents, there was an intent to preserve data collected for future generations, even back then. A good indication of this is the provision that data would be sent to the National Archives of Canada, as set out in the current legislation. The Archives is an organization that has always had the mandate to preserve data for future reference.

We are aware that some people will have concerns about privacy protection. However, this will dissipate over time. This bill, after numerous attempts, will ensure that the goal is reached and that these data will be preserved for historical purposes, as historical societies and genealogical groups have long sought, while ensuring sufficient protection of privacy.

For these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will vote in favour of this bill.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed what my colleague had to say. I know that he has followed this matter very closely. As he points out, the two time periods, the 92 years and the 112 years, are one of the compromises that has been developed during the debates on this issue, the public debate and the debate in the Senate and here in the House.

My colleague heard a previous speaker from another party make the point that he was concerned about it and his party was concerned about it because it creates more paperwork. That is the way he put it. I had thought about that matter. No one wants to create unnecessary paperwork, but it seems to me that in this case the paperwork only has to do with the 92 years. That is the time when societies, professional historians and very sophisticated genealogists are addressing the matter. It is at that point that they will have to fill in some forms or sign documents and so on in order to have early access to this important information.

When it gets to the general public, the rest of us, at the 112 years, there will be no documentation. As I see it, the material will then be available and we can go forward and collect it at that time. I, like the member, think it is a good compromise and I would just like his comments on that. From the point of view of paperwork, I hope it will be minimal but appropriate paperwork and I hope that the paperwork is focused at the level where it is professionals or societies or others who have to complete the forms.