Census must be accurate

Census must be accurate

For all the fuss being made recently about the changes to Statistics Canada’s 2011 census, the questions are almost the same as the 2006 census. In fact, all the questions asked on the 2006 StatsCan census are included in the one anticipated for next year, including a question in the “dwelling” section often referred to as being too intrusive. That is: How many bedrooms are in your residence?

The new voluntary long form does ask additional questions, one being about religion.

The point of contention between the federal Conservative government, professional statisticians and interested parties is that the new voluntary premise of the 2011 StatsCan census (as opposed to the mandatory reporting in the past) will influence the data and skew the information relative to previous data collected. The numbers will only come from people willing to answer the long form. However, the government plans to issue more of these forms – to one in three households compared to one in five for the 2006 census – in an effort to balance the number of non-respondents.

Nevertheless, jail time remains a penalty threat if you do not answer the short form questionnaire. So far, though, no one has ever been jailed for not filling out their census.

The census data are used to determine a number of things including what the needs are for various groups of people living throughout Canada and, for one, what the funding needs for myriad services and projects might be. While there is no shortage of surveys that are taken daily, weekly and monthly, the veracity of StatsCan data has a place of respect and reliability that is the gold standard.

Which brings us to the value to the Black Canadian population in filling out these forms – and doing so honestly. There is a pressing need to ensure that this segment of Canadian society is properly represented in terms of our true numbers, as well as other criteria.

Share has long advocated giving priority to filling out the forms with the understanding that accuracy is needed in order to address specific needs of our community. We have taken a strong position on this, highlighting the importance of being counted and represented. To be clear, we are for the census, under the condition that we can get a true overall picture, especially of the Black community. This is necessary, for example, when resources are being allocated to various communities for such things as education, social services or health care, especially for segments of the community that may be vulnerable to specific diseases.

The StatsCan 2006 data indicate that the African Canadian population represents 2.5 per cent of the total population or just under 800,000.We believe that number is much too low.

It has repeatedly come to our attention that there are people within the African Canadian population who will not automatically self identify as Black. Much of this could be the result of fear or misunderstanding. The questionnaire is not anonymous, as names and addresses are required. And that is the problem for some who resist filling out the long-form. Some are concerned, actually afraid, that if they self-identify as Black they might be at risk of being deported if some unimagined social upheaval turns Black people into scapegoats at some time in the future. No kidding.

But, the benefits of being counted accurately should outweigh these fears. And, a question on nationality alone will not make clear what a person’s ethnicity or heritage might be as so many people, for this or some other reason, might just refer to themselves as Canadian or even British, if they came here from Britain, for example.

The section that asks about a person’s heritage should be structured so as to precisely determine a person’s ethnicity. That is the only way for us to get accurate numbers that will show, without any doubt, the strength of our presence in this country.

While the census might be intrusive, we need to think of it in the same way we think of jury duty – as a civic obligation which, at the same time, ensures that we are accurately represented.



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