The article is long, but for anyone researching British Home
Children -- should be very interesting.
Muriel M. Davidson muriel_davidson(a)sympatico.ca
I copy here for your interest an article recently published in the
Humboldt Journal, a weekly newspaper in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. The
editor, Bill Hancock, has previously written articles regarding British
Home Children. Happy Hunting.
Gordon A. Watts gordon_watts(a)telus.net
Co-Chair, Canada Census Committee
Port Coquitlam, BC
en français http://globalgenealogy.com/Census/Index_f.htm
Permission to forward without notice is granted.
by Bill Hancock
Humboldt Journal editor
Have you ever wanted to research your family history? If so, you may
encounter some problems, thanks to a lack of access to information.
While researching their family heritage as descendants of British Home
Children, Humboldt citizens Jack Hayes and Jim Warden encountered
difficulty locating post-1901 census information. The problem doesn't
just apply to them - everybody in Canada faces the same difficulty.
"This has been an issue since the 1970s," said Gordon Watts, co-chair of
the Canada Census Committee, an ad hoc group formed in 1999 to lobby for
access to information.
The difficulty stems from Canada's Chief Statistician, said Watts, who
refuses to release information on the excuse that a promise was made a
century ago to respondents of the census that no information would ever
"The most common reason they give is that they think there was a promise
of confidentiality in perpetuity for those who took part in the census,"
said Watts, who has spent five years and about $2,000 fighting for
access to information.
"There's no evidence that any promise was ever made," said Watts. "It
does not exist except in the minds of those who think it exists."
Blame for intransigence has been placed squarely on Canada's Chief
Statistician, Dr. Ivan Fellegi. "He has almost single-handedly been
responsible for not allowing post-1901 census information to be
released," said Watts.
According to normal procedure, Fellegi is supposed to hand over that
information to the National Archivist once the census is 92 years old.
Fellegi "has refused to give that control over to the National
Archivist," said Watts.
The 92-year "period of closure" is twenty years longer than in the
United States and eight years shorter than in England, Scotland and
Wales. Watts cannot find any reason why the information should not be
released in Canada.
"The surface reason is individual confidentiality," he said. Over the
years in North America and the British Isles there have been 650 million
people enumerated and information has been released before. "There has
never been a single complaint of information being given or released
after a period of closure," he said.
"The census is probably the single most important source of information
for somebody looking for information about their family," said Watts.
"The census gives a snapshot on a periodic basis of the Canadian
family," he continued. Records contain information such as who was
born, who died and when, sibling names, religion, occupation and some
other bits of information, but unless the person did something quite
remarkable the only information that may exist is their date of birth
and date of death.
Information of that sort was "common knowledge at the time," said Watts.
If it relates to income, Watts dismisses objections to disclosure.
"After 92 years, it's insignificant," he said of any possible
present-day negative impact on anyone who may have concerns about that
information becoming widely known.
In January, the group posted a message on their website asking for a
total of $8,000 to assist with legal bills in their battle to have the
matter heard in court, but nobody expected the response they got, said
Watts. "Within three weeks we had $12,000 donated to us from all over
Canada and the United States," he said.
Over 50,000 signatures have been presented to the House of Commons and
the Senate, and a variety of other measures have been taken as well in
the attempt to have post-1901 census information made accessible. A vote
on the matter has not taken place, said Watts, due to obstruction. "It
was killed by a Liberal Member of Parliament each time," he said.
The group hasn't had success gaining access to information and they are
hard pressed to find out why there is so much opposition from Ottawa
despite having 156 members of Parliament in favour.
"The feeling is that it's being directed from above," said Watts
The battle will continue, he insists. "If it takes another five years I' ll
continue, or for however long it takes," he said, urging Canadians to
write letters to Members of Parliament and Senators.
"Make it known to them that we're not going to give up," he said.
Professor Bill Waiser of the University of Saskatchewan history
department has also been working toward gaining access to post-1901
census data for the purpose of historical research. According to Watts,
Waiser has even been blocked even though he has applied through the
federal Access to Information Act.
The lack of information comes as a bigger surprise to Watts and other
members of the group now that news has been announced that seven
Canadian universities are involved in a $14 million project to
eventually put at least some of the information on the Internet.
However, according to those fighting for access to information, records
made available through that program would likely involve assessing
sociological trends and would therefore be of little use for individuals
searching for family histories. For now, legal and political measures
are being used to gain release of census information.
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