Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to again speak to Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act. The NDP supports the bill because we believe in information exchange, the preservation of information and the extension of our collective knowledge of the past. Bill S-13 would move us in that direction.
We appreciate that there has been non-partisan support on this issue and a real desire among senators to find a compromise between the parties involved.
We support the Senate's work on the bill and the amount of collegiality there has been. We also support the work of the expert panel from Industry Canada that recommended the transfer of census information to the National Archives after 92 years.
Each one of us has heard from constituents on this issue who are dismayed at the delay in releasing the data from the 1911 census. They are also concerned that in the future, census data will not be available for various kinds of research.
I would like to inform the House of one interesting submission that was made to the expert panel, which will be enlightening to this discussion. It was a submission by Gordon Watts who quoted from the journal Archivaria 45 of the fall of 1998. The article, entitled “Counting Archives In: The Appraisal of the 1991 Census of Canada”, was written by Jean-Stéphen Piché and Sheila Powell. It is an excellent explanation of why the census is so important to historians and to all of us.
The article states:
Macro-appraisal analysis of other data collected by the federal and provincial governments led us to determine that the census was the single most complete and uniform body of demographic data in Canada. The provinces are responsible for maintaining records of births, marriages, deaths, adoptions, divorces, and changes of names. These records contain much of the data on individuals that has been traditionally sought by genealogical researchers: date of birth, date of death, names of parents, occupation of parents, residence, place of birth, cause of death, religious denomination, and date and place of marriage.
The crucial difference between provincial vital statistics and the census records is that the provincial data is event-driven and thus recorded only at certain points in an individual's life when these events occur, while the census collects data at regular intervals throughout the course of a person's life. For example, provincial vital statistics on an individual who never married and who had no children would be limited to those collected during registration of their birth and death.
End of story.
The articles goes on to state:
On the other hand, census questionnaire forms would provide information at regular five-year intervals on other aspects of a person's life, such as address, marital status, language, and the identity of the person who pays the rent or the mortgage in the family. This information is collected on all individuals, and even more is collected on twenty per cent of the population through the long census form (Form 2B). This data is extensive, including information on ethnic origin and immigration data, aboriginal status, education, religion, labour force participation, income, housing, and disabilities.
In the last census that was taken there was an extensive survey on disabilities and the extent and range of disabilities within the Canadian public and the impact that has on people's abilities to work and function in society and their mobility.
So many important issues were raised in that study that will go into the public record and will be available four or five years down the line to do more comparisons. We will see legislation come out of that. That is a good example of why the census is so critical for us to value and to support.
Data is also collected by a number of other federal government programs. Taxation records and records maintained for the purposes of administering federal income security programs such as the Canada pension plan, old age security, and the disability tax credit contain information on the date of birth, the place of residence, income, marital status and other individual characteristics, depending on the type of program. There is, however, no federal government system that contains all the types of data that are captured through the census.
For the departmental systems, specific data elements are collected for the purposes of administering and delivering specific programs within a limited period of time. The data is relevant only to those programs and the more limited needs of those citizens interacting with them. It is maintained only so long as is necessary to deliver those programs. The census, on the other hand, by definition covers all Canadians.
In an increasingly mobile society, children may not see their older relatives for years at a time. Having access to historical records for genealogical purposes becomes more vital than ever. We know that oral history is being lost. We are not seeing the same level of transfer of information from one generation to another.
We also need to acknowledge that Canada's history, even in the previous century, included orphan children being moved around the country, first nations children adopted off reserves, and the movement of millions of immigrants from one population centre to another. The record of the census provides some information on where these people were at different times in their lives and allows relatives to track their history.
The census has become more intrusive over the years as Statistics Canada collects more information. However, the provision in this bill to allow citizens in a future census to opt in for the release of their information after 92 years is a positive step. It allows a measure of control for individuals, which we all agree is important.
Some people have suggested that this opt in measure would negate any potential value of a future census. Statistics Canada has asked people in the past if they would be willing to allow their private information to be shared and 95% of the population who were polled responded favourably on that. Since participation in our census is already very high, at almost 97%, we can be certain that most people will opt in to sharing that information in the future.
In closing, I want to emphasize how important this information will be to the continuance of our collective knowledge. As we know more about our past through genealogical studies and our understanding of our ancestors, we will know more about how we should be moving into the future. Many historians are already raising the alarm on how little of our daily information will survive into even the next decade. By turning to electronic forms of communication, we are choosing a temporary medium and cannot be certain that materials in today's hard drives will be accessible in decades to come.
The information in census records may be the most complete picture of a person's life that his or her ancestors may have or historians can access. We want to ensure that the fair access to records moves ahead and we will be supporting this bill.