On the census

I am a little torn about making the long-form census voluntary.  From a statistical perspective, it is always better to have accurate data with varying levels of granularity; making the long form voluntary would seem to make that less likely.

But then Statistics Canada has admitted in the past that it does not enforce the mandatory census provisions equally.  If you live on a First Nations reserve you can ignore the census with impunity and the authorities will not seek legal recourse.  If you live off a reserve, you roll the dice and you take your chances:

Thousands of natives across Canada refused to complete the 2006 census – including the Six Nations in Ontario – and will not face any legal consequences, despite the fact that 64 people not living on reserves were charged under the Statistics Act.

…The maximum penalty for not completing the census is a $500 fine and three months in prison. Of the 64 charged, nearly all decided to complete it rather than go to court.

Some 35,000 people living on reserves refused to complete the census, [director general of the census program Anil] Arora said. As a courtesy, Statistics Canada seeks permission from the band office before entering the reserve, although it isn’t legally obligated to do so. The census isn’t mailed out to reserves, because many still use a P.O. box system, which means census takers can’t verify addresses, Arora said.

— Doolittle, Robyn.  “No charges sought for 35,000 natives who ignore census.” Toronto Star, 15 January 2008.

Seems to me that if the supposedly mandatory census is not actually mandatory (the key variables being one’s ethnic background and place of residence), then Stats Can’s past practice has rendered it de facto voluntary.  You might even say that the government is merely seeking to extend the same courtesy to all Canadians.

I would be interested in finding out why Stats Can chooses to ignore 35,000 holdouts, but goes after a specific set of 64.  The reason given in the article is that native participation has always been poor, and they are worried about curbing the increasing First Nations compliance by charging offenders $500 bucks and throwing them in jail for 3 months.  One wonders why the agency doesn’t think these same kid gloves should apply to non-native Canadians.

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