Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are Canada's Future Historical Censuses In Jeopardy?

Will Canada's family historians, genealogists, academic and independent historians, and even perhaps her statisticians, again have to take time away from their personal, academic and other research to defend Canada's historical censuses?

Many will remember the successful efforts of Canadians to ensure that Canada's 1901 and 1911 censuses were accessible to all, and that post-1911 censuses would be available to future researchers. Compromises were made, and not everyone was quite happy, but in the end, agreement was reached that later censuses would be available to researchers after 92 years had passed successively, and that in 2006, and likely 2011, the census would include a consent clause for future access.

Today, however, there is news about very quiet changes to the census process which would affect historical and genealogical research far into the future. In a CanWest News Service article, today, Shannon Proudfoot's article "Genealogists slam new restrictions on census information" says that Canada's 'long form' census will no longer include the usual broader questions which give a snapshot of the lives of Canadians. Instead, these questions will be included in a "new, voluntary National Household Survey" for selected households which will never be accessible to historical researchers. Presumably the bare statistics will be available, but Statistics Canada's effectiveness will surely be immediately affected by these changes, as data collected from voluntary Household Surveys could never replace that broad collection of data from the national, mandatory census.

Erik Waddell, a spokesman for Canada's Industry Minister Tony Clement, apparently said that this was a government decision, not a Statistics Canada one, and that this was prompted by privacy concerns.

It does not appear, however, that there was any consultation about these changes, nor does there appear to be evidence of any privacy complaints concerning the census.

On the contrary, thousands of Canadians - more than 75,000, petitioned the federal government to guarantee that Canada's historical census information would be available in the future. And as Gordon A. Watts, co-chairman of the Canada Census Committee, the grassroots campaign for census access, is quoted as saying in this article: "The census is the single most important documented information available to the historical and genealogical community."

Almost on the eve of Canada Day, and at a time when many genealogists and family historians are considering how to best celebrate and document Canada's upcoming 150th anniversary in 2017, this is sad and sobering news. Without access to historical census information, Canada's future history would be poor indeed.

"Genealogists slam new restrictions on census information" by Shannon Proudfoot, Canwest News Service. Posted 29 June, 2010 7:02 PM, Canada.com:

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