OTTAWA — If there were a census of census objectors, the questionnaire would require a long list of categories.
There are libertarians, pacifists, First Nations communities and those who jealously protect their privacy.
Canadians who baulk at filling out the forms have a wide variety of reasons for butting up against Statistics Canada. Some of them support the Conservative arguments for replacing the mandatory census with a voluntary survey, and some of them don’t.
One Ontario septuagenarian who wrote to The Canadian Press this week railed against the “Neanderthal” census worker who showed up at his door in 2006, pressing him to fill out the census form. His experience fits with the descriptions of concerned constituents cited by federal cabinet ministers in defending their decision.
“The census is not accurate because many (who fill out) the long form . . . give incorrect answers,” said the writer, who asked that his name be withheld.
“The long form is one of (Pierre) Trudeau’s gems, along with the army in Quebec and ’Just watch me,’ the result a great country destroyed.”
Todd Stelmach of Kingston, Ont., went to court over his refusal to fill out the long-form census in 2006. He wound up paying a $300 fine, even as the prosecutor coaxed him to fill out the form on his day of sentencing.
The judge refused to go along with the Crown’s request to direct Stelmach to fill out the census form, which might have resulted in a more serious contempt of court charge.
But Stelmach’s resistance had nothing to do with the intrusiveness of the questions, or the attached penalties. Instead, he wanted to protests against Statistics Canada’s purchase of census hardware and software from defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
“I felt that an organization that profits from war that’s American shouldn’t be profiting from our census as well,” Stelmach said. “It was more of a Christian making a stand kind of thing.”
Stelmach says he’d still not fill out the mandatory short census, but has mixed feelings about the demise of the long census. Stelmach is a mental-health worker.
“I see that these things help make decisions for stuff that gets my work funding, so I’m not against it,” Stelmach said of the long census.
“I’ve always said I was pro-census, I was just against paying a war profiteer for the census.”
Also in 2006, Ontario truck driver Darek Czernewcan was ordered by a court to pay a fine. Czernewcan, a Polish immigrant whose father had been imprisoned in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, originally resisted because of privacy concerns and later opposed the Lockheed Martin connection.
Chantal Carey’s battle with Statistics Canada has a different twist.
Last year, the Ottawa resident refused to comply with the mandatory Labour Force Survey, a questionnaire of 53,000 Canadians every month.
She has eight slips of blue and yellow paper left at her door by insistent Statistics Canada interviewers with pleas to call them back. “We must complete this brief mandatory survey by the end of this weekend,” one wrote in pen.
But Carey, 25, read the Statistics Act, and could find no evidence that she was forced to fill out anything but the census. She has filed a complaint with the federal privacy commissioner, wanting a ruling on whether she should be forced to give up her personal data.
“I think there are people who really don’t like to do it. Perhaps they feel vulnerable or threatened, what are they going to with the information? If it’s sensitive information, do I want to give out information that might serve a certain field of activity that I don’t support?”
Would she fill out the new voluntary long-form household survey next year? Doubtful, says Carey, but she doesn’t have a fixed opinion on the Conservative government’s decision.
“I’ll have other things to do. I’d rather spend my time on other things, than that,” Carey said. “That’s my personal view.”
Many in Canada’s First Nations communities have also had a troubled relationship with the census. An estimated 200,000 aboriginals were not counted in the last go around, with large reserves such as Akwesasne and Kahnawake not participating.
Some argued they are not Canadian citizens and don’t need to comply. Others viewed their non-compliance as a protest against the Canadian government, and frictions that have gone back decades.