Canada debates removal of compulsory fill-out in 2011 census

09:00, September 06, 2010      

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The Canadian government has been facing a national debate on a new census policy in 2011.

The government's Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, who is responsible for the 2011 Census, announced last month that his government planned to introduce legislations to remove the mandatory "long form" census questionnaire.

However, the official opposition Liberal party vowed that it will introduce a counteract bill to bring back the policy when the House resumes sitting in the fall.

In the previous Census in Canada, 80 percent of the household received a short census questionnaire which contained 8 questions on basic topics such as age, sex, marital status, and mother tongue. Another 20 percent received a 40-page long census questionnaire that adds 53 additional questions on topics such as education, ethnicity, mobility, income, employment and dwelling characteristics.

According to current legislations, households refusing to fill out the long form could possibly face a jail time and/or a fine of up to 500 Canadian dollars (about 480 U.S. dollars).

PUBLIC COOPERATION OBTAINED BY FINES OR JAIL TERMS?

The debate has been focusing on how the government should collect the census information and how the information be used for policy making.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government's decision to remove the mandatory fill-out, stating that government should not use fines or jail terms just to get the public's cooperation.

"In this day and age, the Government will not do that because it's not an appropriate way to get the public's cooperation," Harper said.

The debate was not confined to the federal parties only, but has spread to various fields of the country. Critics, bureaucrats and many social justice advocate groups and individuals have voiced their opposition during the past several weeks. They warned that the information collected through the long form is of great importance and Canada could not afford to lose it.

VULNERABLE POPULATIONS BECOME "INVISIBLE"

One major concern from the opposite groups was that by giving up the mandatory nature of the census, vulnerable groups such as aboriginals, visible minorities and low-income families would be less represented than middle-class white people.

Due to language and literacy difficulties and unique social and cultural backgrounds, people from those groups are less likely to respond to census questionnaire, thus they are at risk to become " invisible" in Canada's demographic population in the future.

Another big concern was that without the information that is complete and coherent, governments, especially those at municipal level, may not be able to make rational decisions while delivering service to public -- individuals, families, as well as voluntary, not-for-profit and neighborhood organizations.

"There are dozens of ways the Statistic Canada's long form helps us to target municipal services wisely," said Clive Doucet, a city councilor who is running for mayor of Canada's capital city, Ottawa. "National averages don't mean much to a city councilor, we want to know what's going on at the neighborhood and street level. The long census form allows us to get that information."

SEEKING FAIR, REASONABLE AND BALANCED APPROACH

While insisting the proposed change is a "fair and reasonable approach" for a "better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians," Clement promised that several questions will be added to next year's census form to boost the information collected from the vulnerable groups.

The added questions include whether a person speaks English or French well enough to conduct a conversation, as well as what language this person speaks most often at home, and whether this person speaks any other languages on a regular basis at home.

Clement stated that these questions will ensure the government' s compliance with Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Fraser Institute, an influential independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization, supports making the 2011 long-form census voluntary rather than mandatory.

"Our rationale for opposing the mandatory long-form census comes down to a core belief that Canadians should not be forced to disclose private and non-essential personal information to the government," said Dr. Brett Skinner, President of the Institute.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:张茜)

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