Jewish and other faith communities have denounced it, the head of Statistics Canada resigned over it, and hundreds of national charities, businesses, think-tanks and social service agencies are fuming because of the federal government’s recent decision to scrap the 2011 mandatory long-form census.
They all contend that abandoning the 61-question census – historically delivered to one in five Canadian households every five years, as opposed to the eight-question short-form delivered to all other households – will lead to a dearth of demographic and cultural data that will severely hamper their ability to plan and budget for their communities’ needs.
Earlier this month, Industry Minister Tony Clement announced that the questionnaire would no longer be mandatory, but would still be mailed out to one-third of Canadian households to be filled out voluntarily, without the threat of fines or imprisonment.
The move prompted immediate reaction from groups across the country, including a rebuke from the Jewish community. A July 14 letter from Canadian Jewish Congress to Prime Minister Stephen Harper – which was also copied to Clement – exhorted him to reverse the new policy on the long-form census.
The letter was signed by leaders of major Canadian Jewish federations, including UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Federation CJA in Montreal, UIA Federations Canada, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Atlantic Jewish Council.
“Jewish federations and service agencies across Canada have long regarded responses to the census’ ethnic and religious identity questions, especially from the more-detailed long form, as a critical source of information for planning, fundraising and implementing programs and services that support… the cultural, social, health care, educational, housing, recreational and spiritual needs of our communities,” Congress wrote.
In a statement, Clement dismissed objections to the move, saying Canadians shouldn’t have to answer “intrusive” questions under penalty of prosecution.
“There are some people… who believe that Canadians should be forced to divulge intimate, private details about their personal lives to the government. We disagree,” Clement said.
He added that making the long-form census voluntary “strikes a fair and reasonable balance between ensuring the federal government has the basic information every government requires, and protecting the privacy of Canadian citizens.”
But Jewish groups said making such a decision based on privacy rights is misguided. In its letter to Harper, Congress said the conclusion that Canadians consider the long form “an intrusive invasion of privacy” isn’t credible.
“Anecdotally, it would be just as defensible to assert that while some Canadians may have grumbled just a bit while filling out the long form, many readily embraced it as a civic duty,” it read.
Congress CEO Bernie Farber, a signatory to the letter, told The CJN last week he held out hope that “over the next short while,” a national groundswell of opposition would convince Clement and Harper to reconsider.
Asked what would happen to Jewish community planning if the their decision stands, Farber said it’s too early to tell and that CJC, in conjunction with various Jewish federations, would consider next steps “once the situation was entirely clear and the government has its opportunity to reassess” its decision.
Howard English, vice-president of strategic communications with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, said the decision, if final, would make his organization’s work “more challenging.”
Both Clement and Munir Sheikh – who resigned last week as the head of Statistics Canada – were asked to appear before the House of Commons industry committee to testify about the matter this week. As of Monday, neither had confirmed their attendance.