Census not an issue: privacy watchdog

Office not consulted on Tory concerns


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OTTAWA -- The federal privacy commissioner was not consulted or briefed on the government's decision to eliminate the compulsory long census form in 2011, despite Conservative claims that Canadians find it an "invasion of privacy."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/07/2010 (4519 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The federal privacy commissioner was not consulted or briefed on the government’s decision to eliminate the compulsory long census form in 2011, despite Conservative claims that Canadians find it an "invasion of privacy."

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart’s office said Wednesday they received only two complaints about the last census in 2006, and ultimately found that the census process complied with privacy laws.

Over the last 20 years, there have been 50 such complaints — and not all of them about the long census form.

Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS Liberal MP Marc Garneau holds a list of organizations opposed to the census change.

"Our office has had a good working relationship with StatsCan over the years," said spokeswoman Anne-Marie Hayden. "We’ve worked closely with the agency to make sure Canadians’ privacy rights are respected throughout the census process."

Statistics Canada forwards all privacy-related complaints about the census to the privacy commissioner.

Industry Minister Tony Clement said earlier in the week that he would not be reversing the decision to abandon a mandatory census in favour of a voluntary survey, despite protest from a wide array of groups, high-profile academics and the former chief statistician of Canada.

Clement said "the government of Canada received complaints about the long-form census from citizens who felt it was an intrusion of their privacy."

But Hayden said any concerns that the office had with either the census questions or the process were resolved in previous years. For example, some Canadians didn’t like that neighbours might have been hired to collect the completed forms — a problem addressed nearly two decades ago.

When it was consulted about the 2011 census, no issues were raised by Stoddart’s office. She was also not informed at the time that the process would be changing.

Stoddart’s office could point to only one privacy breach related to the census in 1986, when a box of completed forms fell off a truck in Winnipeg.

Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser was also not consulted. He has launched an investigation into whether there would be an adverse effect on official language minorities in Canada because of the potential loss of information about their numbers.

Opposition to the census change in Canada continued to mount Wednesday. An online petition in support of the long-form census had swelled to more than 5,000 signatories by the afternoon. A Facebook page on the same subject had more than 1,000 supporters.

Critics say a voluntary process will seriously compromise the quality of the data, because certain groups such as aboriginals and the poor are unlikely to fill it out and the data will be skewed. They also say policy planners won’t be able to compare information gleaned from a voluntary form to decades worth of data from the mandatory form.

Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau called for a House of Commons committee to be convened this summer to question Clement about the change. The NDP says they would support the move, but are first asking Clement to produce proof of the Canadians who complained about privacy concerns. The Bloc Québécois said they would be open to the meeting.

"Let’s be clear, this is ideological and it touches on the most vulnerable Canadians and the federal government’s ability to deliver progressive programs to them," said Garneau.

"By attacking the census, this government is throwing us in the dark on immigration-related issues. They’re doing the same for aboriginals, visible minorities and the disabled, and for those arguing for pay equity."


— The Canadian Press

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