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Re: Census Release: joint submission of the AFHS, AGS and JGS (s. Alberta) to Senate

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  • Gordon Williams
    When people in Government tell us not to worry, it is truly time to start worrying in earnest! And planning! Gordon Williams ... From: Lois Sparling
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 19, 2003
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      When people in Government tell us not to worry, it is truly time to start
      worrying in earnest! And planning!

      Gordon Williams


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Lois Sparling" <lsparling@...>
      To: "dist-gen list" <dist-gen@...>; "Canada Census Campaign"
      <canada-census-campaign-l@...>
      Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 10:50 PM
      Subject: Census Release: joint submission of the AFHS, AGS and JGS (s.
      Alberta) to Senate


      > There are some major concerns with Bill S-13, "An Act to amend the
      > Statistics Act", introduced by Senator Milne earlier this month to deal
      > with access to the original records of historic censuses. There has
      > been considerable discussion in the genealogical and family history
      > community about this Bill. Many people are quite distressed about new
      > limitations on access to the original records of historic censuses

      <<< clip >>>

      http://www.afhs.ab.ca
    • Lois Sparling
      There are some major concerns with Bill S-13, An Act to amend the Statistics Act , introduced by Senator Milne earlier this month to deal with access to the
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 19, 2003
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        There are some major concerns with Bill S-13, "An Act to amend the
        Statistics Act", introduced by Senator Milne earlier this month to deal
        with access to the original records of historic censuses. There has
        been considerable discussion in the genealogical and family history
        community about this Bill. Many people are quite distressed about new
        limitations on access to the original records of historic censuses
        suggested in this Bill. The census is a key resource for those
        researching their family history. The 1911 census is of particular
        importance because record numbers of immigrants came to Canada during
        the first two decades of the twentieth century.

        The Summary to Bill S-13 states that its purpose is to remove "legal
        ambiguity in relation to census records taken between 1910 and 2003." No
        such legal ambiguity exists for the 1911 and 1916 census. The law in
        relation to those two census is identical to the law governing the 1906
        census. The 1906 census was finally released to the public by the
        National Archives this past January. This was after claims that there
        was a legal problem were examined and rejected by an Expert Panel which
        included The Honourable Mr. Justice Gerard LaForest, who had recently
        retired from the Supreme Court of Canada, and the eminent law
        professor, John McCamus. It also followed the commencement of an action
        in Federal Court to compel access to the 1906 census and a finding by
        the Information Commissioner that access to this census was being
        withheld illegally. After a very extensive, detailed and lengthy
        examination of the relevant law, our Government concluded that the
        public should have access to the 1906 census after all. There is,
        therefore, no legal basis for withholding or placing conditions on
        access to the original records of the 1911 and 1916 censuses after the
        requisite 92 years have passed. Bill S-13 proposes to place conditions
        on access to those censuses. This would be an unnecessary and
        unreasonable restraint on the unconditional access to which the public
        is entitled under the existing law.

        The 1918 Statistics Act included a specific provision on secrecy of the
        census returns. There is no reason to believe that the government of
        the day intended to change the rules on public access to the original
        records of historic censuses. However, those who oppose access to
        those original records point to this as a legal impediment to access.
        The Expert Panel conceded that there MIGHT be a need for new
        legislation to correct this ambiguity so that the public could continue
        to have unrestricted access to the original records of historic censuses
        after 92 years. Bill S-13 proposes to put conditions on access to the
        original records of historic census taken to date for a 20 year period
        on top of the existing 92 year waiting period. This is the "Compromise
        Solution" universally rejected by the family history community over the
        last 20 months or so.

        The first issue is why there is a need for compromise over unconditional
        access to the historic census taken between 1918 and now. To the best
        of our knowledge, there is virtually no opposition amongst the general
        public to the release of these censuses after 92 years, just as there
        had been no objection to the release of censuses after 92 years to
        date. Since we do not know the reason for such a compromise, we leave
        it to this Honourable Committee to weigh the arguments against access to
        92 year old census returns, whatever they are, and to decide how much of
        a compromise is needed to give such arguments due consideration.

        Assuming, for the sake of argument, that a compromise is needed, the
        next issue is access to the census returns after 92 years. We are
        assured that those researching their family history will be able to see
        the actual, uncensored census returns and to search through them freely
        to find their families, relatives, future marriage partners of ancestors
        and neighbours. The ability to "browse" is necessary not only because
        the family historian may have only the most tenuous clues as to where
        their family was living in the census year, but also because locating
        relatives and friends of their family often provides the clues needed to
        lead the researcher back to their family's previous residence or place
        of origin in "the Old Country".

        The Family History community is also anxious about whether the necessity
        of signing an undertaking will impact on their ability to view the
        census. Will it be necessary to travel to Ottawa to sign the
        undertaking? Will the National Archives be authorized to distribute
        microfilm copies of these census to major libraries across the country?
        Will those who are housebound or who reside outside a limited number of
        major Canadian cities be able to view the census online? We are assured
        that the undertaking will not impede access to those who live some
        distance from Ottawa or other major centers.

        We are told that the undertaking envisaged will place limits on what we
        can do with the information which we find in the historic census. The
        regulation containing the undertaking will not be disclosed at this
        time. We are assured that there is nothing to worry about. We will be
        allowed to release the information of interest to family history
        research. Why will we be restricted from publishing how many cows our
        ancestors owned in 1921 for an additional 20 years? There is no
        information in the census returns before about 1971 which is more
        private or sensitive than the so called "tombstone" facts. Why,
        therefore, should there be this extra administrative step before it is
        necessary? It will cost the government effort and money to administer
        this undertaking with no policy reason to justify the expense. It also
        worries the family history community to no purpose. The recent long
        census returns are more intrusive. Perhaps the necessary compromise is
        to require an undertaking to view those long form census returns for an
        extra twenty years after the short form census return are released.

        The censuses are an irreplaceable record of the entire population of
        Canada. There is no question that the long forms of the modern censuses
        are very extensive. There is also no question that allowing anyone to
        opt out of the eventual disclosure of the original census returns harms
        the historic value of the census. This is because some portion of the
        population will be left out. Rather than compromise the completeness of
        the census record for future generations, we would prefer to see a
        delayed, even a long delayed, release of those census returns for which
        permission has not been granted for public access after the usual 92
        years. There must be some period of time that everyone can agree is
        long enough that privacy is not an issue anymore.

        We therefore recommend that Bill S-13 be amended:

        1) so that it does not apply to the 1911 and 1916 census
        2) to require that researchers sign an undertaking only for access to
        the more intrusive, long form census returns
        3) to permit public access to the complete historic censuses taken
        after 2003, including those census returns for which permission has
        not been provided for access after 92 years, following a further period
        of time.

        Respectfully submitted by the Alberta Genealogical Society, the Alberta
        Family Histories Society and the Jewish Genealogical Society (Southern
        Alberta)


        http://www.afhs.ab.ca
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