Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak today to Bill S-13. It is a bill on which many members of Parliament have been lobbied.
Certainly, there is a need to open up the census information. I do not think there was an intent, at least the professional panel never found an intent, under the original wording to protect information in perpetuity.
Unlike the member from the Bloc, I would suggest that we do not have the right to protect information in perpetuity. I realize that some information given to the census may be sensitive, but I fail to see any rational argument that after 92 years information cannot be released.
Bill S-13 was introduced by the hon. Senator Sharon Carstairs, Leader of the Government in the Senate. After a short debate, it received second reading on February 11, 2003. It was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The bill has been a long time in coming. It has been before both Houses now for nearly a year and it is time that we move it forward with at least some degree of alacrity.
The purpose of Bill S-13 is to make census records available for research and to the public after a certain period of time. As such, the bill is designed to remove a legal ambiguity that currently exists with respect to post-1901 census records. The bill would allow access by historical and genealogical researchers to census records between 1910 and 2003 under certain conditions, beginning 92 years after the census took place. The census records would then be available for examination without restrictions after 112 years. The bill also contains provisions to avert potential problems in releasing future census data.
It is absolutely essential for genealogists to have access to information. It is absolutely essential for a number of Canadians who may be trying to trace their ancestry or who may be trying to establish their aboriginal rights to have access to census records. If we do not give out this information, then people cannot use that tool, which may be the only tool to prove their ancestry. It is a legal issue. It is not complicated. It is just a matter of opening the door and allowing the information out.
Census records up to and including the 1901 census have already been made available for public use. The data from the 1891 and 1901 censuses was released by the National Archives 92 years after its collection. In 1998, however, the 1906 census records were not released, despite the passage of 92 years. At that time the legal opinion from the federal Department of Justice concluded that later censuses, specifically 1911 onward, were conducted under changes to the law that legally guaranteed the information would not be shown to any other person. As such, the potential existed to prevent the release of any other census records.
It would be a serious mistake not to release this information, particularly, for genealogists, historians, or anyone who is interested in tracing their ancestry or even studying the social values and the progression of history. Most of these people are already dead.
I can certainly go back to the 1831 census in the small community in which I live and find my direct ancestor's names, all down through the census. William Alexander Keddy lived in Lake Ramsay. It is a clear record: naming his children, how many animals he kept on the farm, what was his trade, and his place of business. It is a fantastic record for genealogists. We cannot somehow close the door and not allow people to find information about their own family members.
Everyone does not keep a diary. As a matter of fact, the majority of people do not keep a diary.
An expert panel on the historical value of the census records was formed. It came out in favour of releasing the information. It put a lot of thought into this issue. In its summary, the panel stated:
The Panel is firmly convinced of the benefits of the release of historical census records. The Panel is of the view that with the passage of time, the privacy implications of the release of the information diminishes and that the passage of 92 years is sufficient to deal with such concerns. We are persuaded that a guarantee of perpetual confidentiality was not intended to apply to the census. We believe that the indication of transfer to the National Archives also implied an intention that the census records would eventually become public and we would not view any legislation deemed necessary to do so as a breaking of a promise to respondents. We view the historical and international precedents as fully supportive of this position. The Panel is equally convinced of the value of the census and other work of Statistics Canada and is unwilling to make any recommendation which it believes will jeopardize this work. It is for that reason that we recommend release of the pre-1918 Census records and post-2001 records on a 92-year cycle, while advising some caution regarding any legislative steps that might be thought necessary to effect the release of those census records for the period 1921 to 2001.
The truth is, and it is a very simple truth, that a lot of people do not want more recent census records opened up because of taxation issues. That is the very reason the original respondents to the original censuses in Canada did not want to put down how much property they owned, the value of it, and the amount of livestock they held. It is a very simple application here.
There are a number of arguments in favour of releasing census records.
Without the release of any census records, historians will lose important information about our nation's heritage and those interested in genealogy will lose important information about their ancestors.
Privacy interests are minimal after 92 years--and I think we would all have to agree with that--and are outweighed by the public interest in having access to historical documents.
No perpetual guarantee of confidentiality was ever made.
Most of the information collected by the census is not of a highly sensitive nature and the information that may be sensitive, such as income data, is likely to lose its sensitivity over time.
While census respondents were told that their responses would be confidential, there was also evidence of an intent to preserve the information for the use of future generation. For example, it is stored at the National Archives, which has always had the mandate to store information for future use.
Many of the concerns relating to the privacy of census records relate to short term issues that are irrelevant 92 years after the fact. For example, people were worried that the information could be used for taxation purposes.
Other countries routinely release census records without arousing contention. For example, in Britain and the United States, records are released after 100 years and 72 years, respectively.
This is a good bill. It has been supported by historical and genealogical societies across the country. They have lobbied Parliament hard to have this piece of legislation passed. I agree with it totally and have no difficulty at all supporting it.