Canadian Census 2011. It’s not the size of your form…

(May 7th, 2011 edit)
I am getting Google hits on this story from people looking for the penalty for NOT filling out the mandatory Canadian census form so I will add the actual penalty here:

3 Months in Jail and a $500 fine is the maximum penalty for not filling out the Candiand manditory census form.

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(Everything past this point is the original post) 

The government is replacing the mandatory census forms with a short mandatory form and a long household survey.   First let’s look at the forms. 

Household survey for 2011:

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/survey-enquete/household-menages/pdf/nhs-enm-quest-eng.pdf

Long form from 2006:

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/imdb-bmdi/instrument/3901_Q2_V3-eng.pdf

Short form from 2006:

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/imdb-bmdi/instrument/3901_Q1_V3-eng.pdf

The first thing we should notice is that the long version from 2006 is 40 pages with 61 questions. The short version from 2006 is 5 pages with 8 questions.

The new household survey for 2011 is 35 pages with 66 questions. There will still be a mandatory short census in 2011 which is about the same as the old short form.   

So in 2006 everyone had to fill out the short form of the census and the long census form was sent to one in three households.  They had to fill the form out in its entirety under threat of legal action. When asked about how many people had been jailed for not filling out surveys Clement (the minister in charge of all this) declined to answer the question. I was not able to find any stats on this and I imagine the number is somewhere around 0.

In 2011 everyone will still have to fill out the short census form and now one in five households will be sent the household survey to fill out.  There is no obligation for them to fill out this form.

I am having a hard time thinking of a single valid reason for the government to make this change.  So far they have used a very carefully set of rehearsed lines to backup their decision.  The party line is that Canadians should not be criminalized for failing to complete the census and that the questions were invasive.  There was even an anecdote offered that one immigrant started crying because they feared they would be deported if they did not fill out the forms properly. Anecdotes about single members of the population are always a great way to get around the fact that what you are saying has no real merit.

Jack Layton proposed that the government simply remove the threat of jail time for failing to complete the form. He figures the threat is “bogus” anyway so the government should scrap it.  He even volunteered to introduce amendments to the Statistics Act.  Seems like a reasonable thing to do.  I would likely alter that idea a bit however.  Remove the threat of jail time but add some type of fine for not completing the form if you are given one.  Now I am not sure how they would enforce this fine, maybe they withhold your GST rebate that year or maybe they just remove more money from your income tax.  It seems like if they were able to track the process well enough that they could threaten people with jail, they could easily fine people instead. 

Another idea would be to send the long form to everyone and make it totally voluntary. If you were only sending it to 1 in 3 people before I would guess that at least that many would end up filling it out and sending it in anyway.

You could make it available online so more people would be willing to quickly fill it out online. Of course I can see a tech support nightmare ensuing. Not to mention the security and access control… never mind I don’t trust the government to pull that off correctly before 2011.

I have not spoken about the head of StatsCan resigning and I won’t today but that has to be a good indication that this is a bad idea. 

Again, I see no good reason to change this process. They could of at least lied and said it was going to “Save us billions and help save the economy!” or something along those lines. Not to sound like a paranoid nut case but is it possible that they want less accurate stats so they can push through their policies based on weaker interpretations of those stats? I won’t go down that road. 

I am going to keep an eye out for a valid explanation for this move from the government but for now let me state that I am against the change.



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