Act to Amend the Statistics Act, 2005, and its Implications
In 2005 Parliament passed the Act to Amend the Statistics Act. This legislation represented a major victory for those who had lobbied and campaigned for access the historical census schedules. The Act implemented a major recommendation of the Expert Panel which reported in 2000: all information in the censuses of population up to 2001 would be made available through Library and Archives Canada after a delay of 92 years. With respect to access for subsequent censuses, the Act mandated a different process. Access to personal information in the censuses of 2006 and after would be available after 92 years, but “only if the person to whom the information relates consents, at the time of the census, to the release of the information 92 years later.”
The issue of access to historical census microdata (nominal information) arose again in the spring of 2007, when Statistics Canada reported that in the 2006 census, only 56 percent of respondents answered “yes” to the “consent” question. The effect is that personal information (with names attached) on 44 percent of respondents (those who responded “no” and those who did not answer) will not be transferred to Library and Archives Canada, for release to the public, after the mandatory delay of 92 years. The nominal-level information will remain closed to researchers in perpetuity (although anonymized information will, of course, be available to researchers in the Research Data Centres and in the Public Use Microdata files). This means that after 2098, as a source for genealogical research and a great deal of historical research, the 2006 census will be seriously impaired. If there is no change, subsequent censuses will suffer similar impairment.
On 30 May, 2007, the CHA sponsored a workshop at the Annual Meeting of the CHA at the University of Saskatchewan: “Count Me In: A Cross-Disciplinary Workshop and Planning Session on Future Access to the Census of Canada Schedules.” The workshop heard presentations by Bill Waiser, Ruth Sandwell, and Eric Sager.
In mid-July a delegation of four met with key officials in Ottawa. The delegation included Craig Heron, as President of the Canadian Historical Association; Kris Inwood (Economics, Guelph), Gordon Watts (representing the Canada Census Committee), and Eric Sager. The delegation held discussions with the following people in Ottawa: Andrea J. Neill, Assistant Commissioner, Office the Information Commissioner and other officials of that office; Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner, and members of her staff; and Anil Arora, Director of Census Operations, Statistics Canada, and members of his staff. The delegation urged that these officials support an early parliamentary committee review of the so-called "informed consent" question (a parliamentary committee review is required, not later than 2014, by the 2005 Act to Amend the Statistics Act).