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Census Ruckus: I'm with Harper on This One

They never say why they need so much info. I just don't trust them.

Rafe Mair 16 Aug

Rafe Mair's column runs every second Monday on The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee columns here and more of his writings on The Common Sense Canadian.

Gadfrey Daniel! I'm on the same side as Stephen Harper, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and -- Gadfrey Daniel! once more -- the Fraser Institute! I say NO to the census "long form."

I must say, without intending to hedge, that my opposition takes the form of simple questions.

Why do you want this information?

What specific purpose is it used for?

Is this to get information at taxpayers' expense for corporations who could get the same information on their own dime?

Is it, more likely, information they badly want but have no way of getting with any certainty it's accurate unless it's extracted from citizens under duress?

Let's get down to cases with a few questions to the census man/woman.

If you aren't going to disclose anybody's name, why then do you need it?

Why do you need my telephone number unless someone is going to call me -- like a telemarketing company?

Why do you need to know who stays in my place, including children, by name? Is this so telemarketers know that mine is a very good place to sell kids clothing or family lifestyle magazines? Or if there are no children, peddlers of dentures, prosthetic devices and electric carts?

Why do you want to know whether people who live with me are foreigners? Might I expect a visit from the immigration people?

Too personal, step away

You ask highly personal questions about people staying with me, including their relationship to me and if they're living common-law, plus much, much more. Why do you need this? What use will be made of the information? Just on the common law question -- of what earthly business is it of yours what relationships people have with one another?

Remembering that the names and details of my guests will now be known to you, why do you need to know about their mental health problems?

What business is it of yours where my guests were born, including whether or not they are landed immigrants and if so, when they achieved that status?

Am I doing investigations for the immigration department?

What possible right have you to know my guest's religion? What use will you make of that information? To be peddled to religious nuisances who pound on the door and interrupt one's Sunday hangover?

Why, unless you want to send them a birthday card in their native tongue, does the Canadian government demand that I demand information from my guests on the basis that I might go to prison if they don't give it to me?

Since French and English are the official languages of Canada, of what interest is it to Ottawa what other languages are spoken unless, of course, this information is sold to telemarketers?

Ancestors? Who cares?

Why should I tell you how much income I made and how much tax I paid?

Are you seriously asking me to believe that this information will not be sent to the tax department? Am I to trust you? Be prepared for a surprise -- I don't!

You really get personal about my ancestry and religion. Of what concern is it of yours what my ancestry is? Dealing with religion, what's it to you? You want to know all about my parents. What possible reason can you have for that? They're not likely to either need help from the government or cheat it since they're both dead.

It's interesting to note that the information about "race" goes to the people who administer the Employment Equity Act. Does that include names and addresses? Who gets this information -- the lowliest clerk in the department?

You want to know where people living with me lived five years ago, a question I might find too personal for even me to ask of them. Is this information for municipal governments to help them to identify "illegal" suites?

Reason being?

Before I answer a lot of personal questions, under penalty of prison if I don't, just tell me, question by question, why you want this information. I base this request on the notion that my privacy cannot be invaded unless good reason is shown. This "good reason" is not satisfied by saying that we have "good reasons."

Your whole case seems to be "we need the information" and "trust us."

That's not good enough, and I don't.

Those who have set their hair afire over the abandoning of the "long form" say that in surveys, people don't object.

Okay, not for the first time, I stand alone as an objector and do so on principle -- the principle being that almost everything government wants to know about me is none of their damned business.

It's often said, "If you have nothing to hide, why worry?"

I worry because I do have something to hide -- my privacy!

I have that old fashioned notion that if someone demands information from me, they must at the very least tell me why they need that information and what use they will make of it.

Is that too much to ask of our government?

Governments are generally so untrustworthy we must have ombudsmen, privacy commissioners, auditors-general and conflict of interest commissioners to protect the interests of the lowly citizen. We have these and other people in place for one simple reason -- governments habitually break trust with the citizenry. Why would they be any different in this regard?

Numbers for everyone

I remember when the Canada Pension Plan was introduced, we were told that whatever information we gave the government would just be our little secret. In no time, the SIN number was required for ID by almost anyone you wanted to do business with.

If the long form census -- indeed the short form for that matter -- requires personally identifiable information, Canadians are entitled to know, in detail, what that information will be used for.

If I'm asked, "Do you not trust your government?" my answer is a plain, unequivocal NO. Why the hell should I?  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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