CanGenealogy Canadian Genealogy The "opt-in" question
There is a fundamental problem with the Canadian census, one that will severely impair the work of future family historians. Genealogists could be important allies in the campaign to preserve records for our descendants. Here is how to help.

Join the fight to preserve the census

By Dave Obee

The opt-in question will severely hamper the value of today's census returns when they are finally opened to researchers. It does not have to be that way - but the federal government needs to act. Apparently, the government will not do what the law requires without a nudge from the people. That's where you come in.

Simply put, the opt-in question on the census needs to be removed. That question asks Canadians whether they are willing to have their information available through Library and Archives Canada 92 years after the census is taken. Respondents are told to check with "all members of the household" before answering the question.

The default answer - the one that applies if the question is not answered - is No. People do not specify that they want their information kept private, but are asked whether they want it to be open. In 2006, only 56 per cent of us said Yes.

Changing the default to Yes would result in a much higher approval rate, and would make much more information available to our descendants.

As it stands, as Bill Waiser and Ian E. Wilson point out in their column, two of every five Canadians will effectively fade from memory.

Before 2006, census information that named Canadians had been made publicly available after a minimum 92-year waiting period.

In 2005, the federal government decided to test the opt-in question for the 2006 and 2011 censuses. The government said it would require a review of the informed-consent question before the 2016 census was taken.

That review has not been done. To make matters worse, the 2016 census form did not provide any explanation about the opt-in question. As a result, our descendants will not be able to find 44 per cent of us.

The next census will be taken in 2021, and it is imperative that something be done before that. Parliament needs to hold the review of the opt-in question. That is not an opinion; that is required by law.

The problem is that Parliament needs a nudge. You can help.

Write to your Member of Parliament, pointing out these key facts:

  • The opt-in question will severely restrict the value of the census
  • The 2016 census was lacking an explanation about the question
  • The law requires a review of the question, and that review is overdue
  • The cost of making the change would be just about nil

    To find the regular and email addresses of your MP, go here:
    Find Your Member of Parliament Using Your Postal Code

    Column: 2016 census will be a severely flawed record

    Dave Obee was involved in the fight a decade ago to open the historic census returns for research. He runs the CanGenealogy website.

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