Monday, May 15, 2006

Census Day!

Census Day in Canada is May 16th and, as the slogan says, it's important to "count yourself in!" Many of our country's social programs rely on census data and the distribution of seats in parliament is determined, in large measure, by the same information. Businesses and nonprofit agencies use census figures to determine how best to invest their resources. I can hardly wait until midnight, when I will log on to the Statistics Canada website and let the head-counters know that I'm still alive and happy to live in this marvellous country of ours.

Of course, I couldn't help but prepare for this exercise by filling in the paper census return first. This year, I was fortunate to receive two forms -- one for my home and the other for the cottage -- although I was a little disappointed that both returns were the "short" forms. (I know, most of those who get the long form complain about it almost endlessly! Not me; I'd love to fill in a long form for posterity's sake. Maybe next time!)

While completing my census form I was surprised -- no, disturbed! -- to discover that it's now possible for a person to restrict access to their census information in perpetuity. Unless you check the box agreeing to make your census information available for public release in 2098, it will never be publicly available! Privacy is one thing but who really needs to have their privacy protected long after they are dead? Surely, the right to privacy has limitations.

As an amateur genealogist, I have used the information from previous censuses to fill in the gaps of my family tree. I have acquired copies of the birth registrations for relatives who were born more than a century ago, marriage registrations for those who tied the knot at least eighty years ago and death registrations for those died at least seventy years ago. Recently, I applied to receive the citizenship files for two of my grandfathers and two great-grandfathers, who were naturalized as Canadian citizens more than eight decades ago. For those in search of their roots, the availability of such information is essential. Who's privacy is harmed by this access?

I will be checking the box to allow my census information to be shared in 2098 and I would encourage all Canadians to do the same. Then, after we've filed our census returns, let's contact our members of parliament to urge them to change the law. The right to privacy is for the living. Beyond the grave, we can let it go ... for our descendents' sake, if nothing else.