Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-626 and the proposed amendments to the Statistics Act.
First and foremost, the government has consistently been committed to balancing the need to collect reliable statistical data while protecting the privacy of Canadians and reducing costs for our taxpayers.
Many aspects of the bill would negatively affect the governance and accountability of Statistics Canada, the timeliness of data collection, and would force Statistics Canada into adopting standards and practices that may be unsuitable for the Canadian context. Moreover, it would increase costs to taxpayers and impose an unnecessary burden on Canadians that has already been lifted. For these reasons, it is impossible for this government to support the bill.
Our government committed to the removal of jail-time penalties for not filling out mandatory surveys. The bill before us would partially accomplish this; however, the bill does not go far enough. While the bill seeks to remove the threat of jail time for Canadians refusing to respond to mandatory surveys, including the census, it would not remove this threat from other portions of the act.
We believe that when Canadians respond to surveys about their private lives, they should be able to do so in complete confidence, without the threat of imprisonment for failing to comply. We also believe that when Canadians take part in the survey, whether as an individual citizen or on behalf of an organization, they should never have to respond to questions or provide administrative data under the threat of imprisonment.
This government has committed to being tough on crime and has brought forward many measures to meet this commitment. We have also made standing up for victims a priority, to ensure that Canadians feel safer in their communities. We have worked to combat serious crimes, protecting some of the most vulnerable members in our society against harm and abuse.
We believe that our criminal law should be focused on actual criminals and should reflect the gravity of the crimes committed. Prison penalties should be reserved for criminals, drug traffickers, murders, and child abusers, but not for people who fail to comply with mandatory surveys or fail to provide administrative data. It is just like the Liberals: they want to turn law-abiding Canadians into criminals, either through this bill or with what they tried to do under the long gun registry.
There is no utility in threatening jail time for Canadians who refuse to fill out surveys, especially when this disciplinary measure has scarcely been enforced. There is only one individual in the history of the census who has ever been sentenced to custody for failing to complete a mandatory survey. In all other cases, which are few in number during each census cycle, the penalty of a fine or community service has been sufficient.
Canadians understand that their participation in the census is important. Their responses are necessary for establishing the population of the country, which is information that we need to define electoral districts and determine transfer payments involving billions of dollars to the provinces.
Canadians value the census, and this was no more evident than in the response rate of the last census in 2011, which was 97.1%. This highlights Canadians' commitment to helping us collect the information that we need to inform policies and programs right across the country.
However, it is this government's view that no Canadian should ever face the threat of imprisonment for refusing to fill out a census or a mandatory survey, or for refusing to grant access to administrative information. This is why, in keeping with our election promise, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London has introduced Bill C-625, which proposes to remove the threat of jail time for all forms of data collection.
It was this government that stood up for Canadians and made the necessary changes to the census so that no Canadian would ever feel forced to answer intrusive questions that challenged their right to privacy. It was this government that worked to find a balance between the need to collect reliable, relevant data and the obligation to protect the privacy that Canadians value.
We have taken numerous steps to ensure that fundamental information, the information that is so important to Canadians in communities across the country that it must remain mandatory, continues to be collected.
The government has also decided that Canadians should not be forced to respond to detailed questions about their private lives, and has since adopted the national household survey. This survey provides a better balance between collecting reliable data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians.
This government has the utmost respect for the right to privacy that all Canadians deserve, and we believe that when Canadians participate in mandatory surveys, they should be able to do so without the threat of imprisonment. Prison is meant for criminals, not for those who do not comply with mandatory surveys or fail to provide administrative data.
The current bill would not take the issue far enough and would not remove the unnecessary imprisonment threat for all forms of data collection.