Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois on Bill S-13 to amend the Statistics Act.
There are three specific points in the bill. Among other things it states, and I quote:
This enactment removes a legal ambiguity in relation to access to census records taken between 1910 and 2003.
There will be limited publication of census records and full publication. With respect to limited publication, it says:
It allows genealogical and historical researchers access to these records under certain conditions for a 20-year period, beginning 92 years after the census took place.
For full publication it says:
One hundred and twelve years after the census, anyone may examine the records without restriction. The bill also includes a provision for avoiding any problem with respect to divulging data contained in any future census.
The important elements of this bill concern the availability of information contained in census records taken between 1910 and 2003.
Subsection 17(4) of the bill would allow, after 92 years, any person who so desires to conduct genealogical or historical research if that person seeks written permission to examine the information contained in the census records. A person could do so if that person obtains written permission.
The approval of any research project is subject to its public and scientific value. Conditions for the use and communication of information apply if a person seeks permission to conduct historical or genealogical research. A person who wishes to examine the records must sign—and this is very important—an undertaking in the form prescribed by regulation and abide by it. Every person who contravenes this undertaking is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000.
Who is interested in examining this information? Whom is this bill for? It is for everyone interested in history, such as historians and genealogists who want to consult these census records. Historians and genealogists seek information about households and families in earlier times. They want to find out about how work was shared among members of the family, the geographic and socio-economic mobility of ordinary Canadians, and the growth or decline of rural and urban areas, all essential aspects of our national history. That is what they want to know.
These census records are a unique source of information on the Canadian population and patterns of settlement. It is of inestimable importance to our understanding of the past. If you do not know where you have been, the saying goes, how will you know where you are going? We often use historical data to see the path behind us and to stake out the path ahead.
Historians say that only access to individual census records will enable them to do their research adequately. Why, after all, do we take a census? Why, after all, do we go from house to house, as used to be the case, to ask people questions? It was the only way to find out how families were made up.
Some families at the time were very large. Many people went to work in the forests; others went to work in another city, but they still had one specific place of residence.
People at the time, then, were very mobile. Nevertheless, their physical place of residence remained the same, even though they went elsewhere to work. They would come back after several months.
I always give the example of my father and grandfather. My father lived in Laterrière and my grandfather, in Chicoutimi. At the time, in the early 1930s, my father worked in the Price logging camps. He left in the fall, spent the winter in the forest, and returned in the spring.
Every time he came home, my mother had given birth to a new baby. My mother had 16 children. That was quite an accomplishment. A census was needed to count the people and observe how they were living.
In those days, many households also included the grandparents or, if not the grandparents, some great uncles. So this was a kind of blended family, a different kind from those we have now. At that time, it was the extended family all living under one roof.
As a result, it was important to carry out a census. Data is not collected in the same way nowadays.
Many Canadians and Quebeckers have an interest in genealogy and need to consult census data on individuals in order to establish lineage and to trace families back in time.
As I said, this is very important. People have more and more free time these days, and more and more are retiring early at 50 or 55. They then have time to look up their ancestors and investigate their family tree.
In my own family, we have done this on both sides. My father's and my mother's ancestors are all from the same French background. They came from Normandy. We have done the research and found that out.
It is very important to be able to tell children where their ancestors came from, who their relatives are, and how their ancestors came here.
Census data is therefore very important for providing information from which people can investigate their family tree.
Census data is a source of very important and valuable information, because it provides names and ages.
In the past, many people went by nicknames. Someone might, for instance, have been baptized as Amédée but have been known all his life by some other name. People did not even know what his real name was, what names were on his baptismal records. This was a common occurrence.
For instance, my father always told us about his uncles, but we never knew their real names. We found them out only when the family tree was done. They had been known by nicknames.
Census data includes names and ages. It used to be difficult to figure out people's ages, because they might have been baptized long after their birth. So we could not always know their exact age.
Certain details about all family members are also given in the census. They provide information specific to an individual, such as date of birth, whether or not they were an immigrant, level of education and economic situation.
It is only through an examination of the lives of each family member that we can establish the lineage of Canadian families.
In my opinion, it is very important. Gérard Bouchard, the brother of the former leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard, has compiled a database on all the lineages in my area.
I do not know if you are aware that there are a lot of diseases such as cystic fibrosis in my area. There is a high incidence of these diseases because, through the ages, there has been too much inbreeding. It is important to be able to retrace lineages through statistics to find solutions to this problem and deal with these diseases.
So we can see how important this bill is. The main point of the bill is to make census records available. There is also another important thing. Subclause 17(7) indicates that, starting 112 years after the census is taken, the information may be examined by anyone.
Subclause 17(8) says that “the information contained in the returns of any census of a population taken in 2006 or later may, starting 92 years after the census is taken, be examined by anyone if the person to whom the information relates had given their consent to disclosure of that information”.
If consent to disclose personal information is not given by the person concerned, the information will never be made public. Earlier, a Canadian Alliance member said that the bill was dangerous. I say no, it is not, because if a person were to refuse consent, the information will never be disclosed.
Subclause 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”.
The Bloc Quebecois finds that Bill S-13 allows important historical information to be studied after an acceptable statutory timeframe. Consequently, we are in favour of Bill S-13.
The Bloc Quebecois' political action and presence here in Ottawa help to extend Quebec's common history. Access for archivists and historians, 92 years after the census is taken, will allow the production of better historical documents that enrich the cultural heritage of Quebec.
In fact, Quebec does not have access to information from this period in Quebec's history. This will enable us to enrich Quebec's heritage. Many experts maintain that census documents are essential. This is an important point. With regard to historical or genealogical research, where does the right to privacy end and the need for historical information begin?
That is the question we need to ask: Where do we draw the line between privacy and the need for public disclosure? The Bloc Quebecois feels that while the right to privacy has to be respected, census information should not be subject to perpetual confidentiality.
With the passage of time, respondents' concerns about protecting their privacy will diminish and, after an appropriate period of time, the public's right to access census records overrides respondents' rights to privacy.
Furthermore, since the data is not harmful to those still living and that releasing such data cannot harm them, we feel that historical and scientific requirements 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.
I want to digress here. Next Saturday, people in my riding will celebrate a woman's 100th birthday and her husband's 98th birthday. They will also be celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. This is unusual and an honour for Jonquière to pay tribute to this couple, originally from the Magdalen Islands. They settled in my area when the Abitibi Consolidated plant was built in Kénogami and raised their family there. Now, we are paying tribute to them.
This bill could adversely affect them, but I think not. I think that they are proud to talk about their lives; they are proud of their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren. I am sure that, if asked, they would agree to disclose their information so that their family and their great-grandchildren can have access it, to do their family tree.
The Bloc Quebecois does not believe, however, that the dead do not have the right to privacy protection. 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 census data is not confidential. Data that is confidential, such as income data, probably lose its confidential nature over the years.
Despite assurances about confidentiality given to people providing census data, we believe there was a desire at the time to keep the information for future generations. A good indication of this is that the information was always sent to the National Archives of Canada, as indicated in the current act. The National Archives have always had the mandate to conserve the data for future consultation.
Many concerns relating to the private nature of census records deal with ephemeral issues that are of no great interest 92 years later. We realize that some people may have concerns about the privacy of people who provided census information, but we believe the reasons for these concerns will disappear over the years.
The additional 20 year time limit, that is between the right to examine records for historical or genealogical research and the right for anyone to examine them, in relation to census records taken between 1910 and 2003, shows a great respect for people covered by previous censuses.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois believes that making legislative changes to allow for the divulging of census information considered to be confidential does not affect privacy.
A March 2000 study revealed that Canadians are in favour of releasing census information under the method proposed by Bill S-13. For all these reasons and many others, therefore, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the principle of the bill.
As I said at the beginning, the bill respects privacy and shows great respect for the people concerned and those who might be 100 years old today. The provisions of Bill S-13 are also critically important for historians and records officers, allowing them to pursue their historical and genealogical research.
The Bloc Quebecois will gladly to vote in favour of this bill.