NEWS19 July 2010

Questions raised over gov't claims on census complaints

Government North America

CANADA— The Canadian government says it is abolishing the long-form mandatory census because of privacy concerns raised by citizens – but those claims have been undermined by the country’s privacy commissioner, who says there have been only three complaints in the last decade.

In fact, complaints are down significantly on the 1990s, reports the Globe and Mail. In 1991 there were 33 complaints, 16 in 1996, one in 2001 and two in 2006.

Favouring a voluntary questionnaire, industry minister Tony Clement said: “In the past, the Government of Canada received complaints about the long-form census from citizens who felt it was an intrusion of their privacy… The government does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution.”

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) politely called out the privacy issue as a ruse in a letter setting out its opposition to the government plans.

It said: “We submit that the Government based its decision with respect to the long-form questionnaire on anecdotal information that some Canadians perceive it to be an unwarranted intrusion. We are not aware of any hard data from a survey or other evidence-based information that this view is held by a majority – or even a significant minority – of Canadians.

“MRIA submits that from a bigger picture perspective, the opposite view is more accurate. Because the mandatory long-form questionnaire generates more reliable data, it actually limits intrusion by reducing poorly targeted marketing communications that would otherwise be sent to consumers.”

The MRIA has warned that the new voluntary National Household Survey will likely have “a substantially lower” response rate and the resulting data “will be less robust” than the mandatory questionnaire it replaces.

“Those in lower income groups, ethnic minorities and the most wealthy citizens are least likely to answer questions voluntarily,” said the MRIA. “This would lead to skewed data and doubts about the accuracy of information that is relied upon by public policy and business decision-makers.”



14 years ago

Good on the MRIA for waving the flag on this issue. One of the tenets of a robust economy - indeed a major argument for the existence of our profession - is the availability of information. It's right there in Economic 101 - and one cannot underestimate the role of Census data in helping a nation understand its people, and its markets. Aparently the Canadian Government has chosen to do just that - precisely at a moment when it is getting even more necessary to have census data to benchmark surveys conducted online, and when falling response rates are making even random sampling a less than ideal solution. They're just trying to save dolalrs, surely. I believe they'll pay a high cost.

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14 years ago

When asked what religion I follow I am forced to lie because my faith is not on the list. When forced to choose between a little lie and jail time, there isn't much of a choice. Can't help but wonder how many other people feel the same. Must lead to some really useful and valid data if there's a lot of people lieing out of fear of becoming a criminal. But I suppose aside from that it must be nice to have all those addresses. That way if there's ever a need to round up everyone of a particular faith or race it should be a piece of cake. Imagine if we were in Nazi Germany and all Hitler had to was enter into a computer: Select name, address from citizens where religion = 'Jewish' My extreme rhetoric put aside, I can understand the value of the information in determining important things for running the country. Aid for groups that need it. Recognising trends and being able to prepare for the future. But the significance of religion and race don't aren't the same things they were 100 or even 20 years ago. The significance of information isn't even the same as it was. Treating things the same way as it has always been is a recipie for trouble.

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