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Census Day Q and A

Tuesday, May 16 is Census Day in Canada. Every five years, people fill out forms about everyone living in their household and send it off to Statistics Canada.

Tuesday, May 16 is Census Day in Canada. Every five years, people fill out forms about everyone living in their household and send it off to Statistics Canada. Reporter Heidi Ulrichsen recently talked to Douglas Newson, regional director for Statistics Canada in Ontario.

Q: What is the history of the census in Canada?

A: We've actually been doing a census in Canada since 1666, believe it or not. Jean Talon, the great Intendant of New France, was the first one to do a census in Canada. The British North America Act of 1867 established the federal government was responsible for doing a census starting in 1871. In 1956 we started doing a mid-decade census because the country was growing so rapidly, and we needed the updated information. Basically, since Confederation, we've done a census in every year ending in one, and from 1956, in every year ending in six. The last census was in 2001.

Q: What can a census tell us?

A A census is like a big family portrait. It tells us about the people in Canada, their basic demographics, their cultural background, their level of education, and what kinds of jobs they do. Because we collect information from every part of Canada, you can collect information on fairly small geographic areas. It means that you can not only get information on Greater Sudbury, but you can get it on neighbourhoods, although confidentiality is guaranteed. That's really the glory of the census, because municipal governments can use it for all of the planning work they need to do.

Q: What interesting facts came out of the 2001 census?

A: Everybody seems to have this image of two parents and two children, but that's really not the case. Less than 30 percent of households consist of a couple with kids at home. Actually, even more households consist of just a couple, "empty nesters "or people who haven't had kids yet. There's also been a tremendous growth of people who live by themselves. It's up to 26 percent. To a large degree, that's fueled by a growing seniors' population. If their spouse dies, they (widows or widowers) live on their own. There's also some significant growth in lone-parent families. In Sudbury, one out of every six families is a lone-parent family. Also, about one in eight families in Sudbury is a common law family.

Q: Are we compelled by law to fill out the census?

A: There is a legal requirement to complete the census. It's under an act of Parliament called the Statistics Act. Potential penalties include fines and even jail time. Having said that, I've never really seen anyone go to jail that I can remember. After the last census, a total of 52 cases were actually prosecuted across the country. One of them was dismissed. In more than  60 percent of the cases, the judge made them fill out their census forms. There were fines. In some cases, the judges sentenced them to community service and gave them a lecture about good citizenship.

Q: How is census information collected?

A: The questionnaires are being delivered right now. In Greater Sudbury, for the most part, they are in the mail. In smaller centres, they're delivered by hand. When you get your questionnaire, you have two immediate choices. For the first time, you can do it on the Internet. If you don't want to do it on the Internet, certainly they can be completed and mailed back. There's a mail-back envelope that comes with it. May 16 is Census Day. We will start to contact people to remind them of the census about ten days after that.

Q: What's new with this year's census?

A: For the first time, people have the opportunity to indicate that they're willing to have census data released after 92 years. This is the legacy question, as it's being called. If you check the yes box, after 92 years the information would be released and available in the national archives. We set the pattern after we released the 1911 records in 2003. That's where the 92 years idea came from.
The bottom line is that virtually nobody alive today is going to be alive in 2098. I think it's very interesting. I checked off yes. I kind of like the idea of my great-grandchildren being able to get some more details on us.

Q: Are there opportunities for employment with the census?

A: We are still hiring. All people have to do is go to There are links to an online applications.  We're looking for people that are used to dealing with the public, have access to a vehicle and are bilingual. Candidates also have to pass a screening.


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