Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Surrey Central, Canadian Alliance)
Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak in support of Motion No. 160 presented by my colleague, the chief critic for national revenue, the Canadian Alliance member for Calgary Southeast. The motion states:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take all necessary steps to release the 1911 census records once they have been deposited in the National Archives in 2003.
The purpose of the motion is to release post-1901 census data to the general public.
The motion has received a broad base of support from various members of the House, not just Canadian Alliance members. In addition, many MPs have received letters of concern from genealogists in their constituencies.
In Surrey Central I have received letters asking for the release of post-1901 census records. For example, Don Ellis of Surrey Central has been writing to me since I was elected. He points out that the Access to Information Act protects the census information from being abused while it allows for the benefits of the release of this information.
Mr. Ellis stated in his letter:
Previous census records have been released, and they have been of invaluable assistance to those of us researching our ancestry. We have long awaited the release of the 1911 census, and of future records, to give us additional information.
Apparently, the Privacy Act is being given as the reason for withholding these records. This is ridiculous in view of the freedom of information act.
Another constituent wrote to me, who said:
I have recently been made aware that our government has placed a closure on all future census records and that the 1901 census will be the last one available for public research. I would like to voice my objection to this unfortunate decision.
As an amateur genealogist and the family historian I have made extensive use of census records both Canadian and British and cannot overstate the value of this source in establishing family relationships. They are one of genealogy's most valuable resources and should not be allowed to be permanently closed.
Since the United States has made available the 1920 census and is in the process of preparing the 1930 census for release I would like to know the rationale behind Statistics Canada's decision. I believe the former ninety year closure to be more than adequate to protect the privacy of any individual.
Another constituent, Robert Paulin, has been generous with his information and has encouraged the official opposition to take action to release these records that are almost a century old.
Strong families make strong communities. Stronger communities make stronger nations. The government refrains from doing anything and everything that makes families strong, whether it is the definition of marriage or not reducing taxes, which creates a tremendous burden on family members.
Many years ago only one member of the family worked. Now both parents work, but still they are saving less. All of these constraints are weakening the family institution.
The institution of the family is important and the government needs to do everything it can to strengthen it.
Some of the letters and representations I have received are from people in the business of researching family trees. There is a significant demand for these services. The withholding of the census data threatens these jobs and the firms conducting this research, and deprives the beneficiaries of important sentimental information.
In my own family, my wife's great grandfather died in Canada, but we are unable to learn of his whereabouts since the census information has not been released.
Census data is important information for historical research, especially for those researching family history. Without releasing the information contained in the 1911 census this research is seriously hampered.
Finally, it should be noted that the vast majority of those who participated in the census have passed on and, as such, the potential for breach of privacy is minimal.
Up to and including the 1901 census in Canada census records were transferred to the National Archives and were subsequently made available to the public 92 years after their collection. This was possible because clauses in the Privacy Act allowed for the subtraction of certain pieces of information and their release to the National Archives, subject to certain aspects of the Privacy Act.
In 1906 Sir Wilfrid Laurier, by order in council, legislated regulations that brought about an imposed secrecy on enumerators and other officers of the Census and Statistics Office. These regulations refer to chapter 68 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1906, an act respecting the census and statistics.
Within this ruling section 26 of the regulations stated that the compilation of census data could only be used for statistical purposes. By 1918 this regulation was codified, providing that no one could view the information without the express consent of the individual. Unfortunately, no time limit was given and, combined with a legal opinion of the justice department of 1985, it was interpreted that the information had to remain secret forever.
Some historians believe that the original 1906 and 1918 provisions had to do with a prevailing concern that the census data could be used for taxation purposes or military service. It is doubtful that the prevailing concern of the time was that historians would use the data some 100 years later.
In a most recent report, the privacy commissioner, Bruce Phillips, warned the industry minister that the release of census data could seriously hamper the accuracy of future census and renege on a previous commitment to secrecy. The industry minister has nonetheless asked Statistics Canada to undertake a study of options to amend the legislation in this regard by either retroactively changing the confidentiality provisions from 1911 onward or by amending the legislation for censuses taken from 2001 onward.
If Canada were to place its census data under lock and key forever it would sadly be far out of step with many other western nations. For example, in the United States census data is released after 72 years and an individual can retrieve his or her own data at any time. In Australia census data is released after 100 years. In France census data is released after 100 years. In Denmark census data is released after 65 years, and in the United Kingdom efforts are being made to release data after 100 years. It is now two years later. We are still waiting for something to be done by the government.
In conclusion, the panel will report to the minister by the end of May 2000. Hopefully the motion we are debating today will spur the minister to take action.
By the way, I had written earlier to the industry minister. To be fair, his original response to me was on the government's line, that they could not release the information. I wrote back to him and the chief statistician responded, admitting that the minister directed him to develop options for changing the legislation.
It appeared that the minister was going to pay some attention to the matter in order to release this information, which was positive news until we realized that he had struck a panel to study the matter. We urge the government to release this important information so that we can strengthen the institution of family and thereby strengthen our nation.
Subtopic: 1911 Census Records