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‘Head count’ fuels protest

White Rock social activist Pummy Kaur burned her copy of the Canada 2011 Census after failing to obtain the form's long version
White Rock social activist Pummy Kaur burns her copy of the Canada 2011 Census.

White Rock social activist Pummy Kaur is all burned up over the Canada 2011 Census.

And she’s risking penalties for not completing the census by setting fire to her paper copy of the basic form as a gesture of protest.

It’s not that Statistics Canada is asking too many questions, she said – it’s that it’s asking her too few.

For weeks before she incinerated the document earlier this month, Kaur had been trying to obtain a copy of the more detailed, 65-question ‘long-form’ census, rather than the simplified census that has been made available to more than 10 million Canadian households online or in hard copy.

She said it’s her right as a Canadian to be able to fill out the long form, which gathers valuable information to support government programs targeted at such groups as seniors, low-income families, visible minorities and aboriginal residents.

But, after trying to request one through the Statistics Canada information line and through the office of MP Russ Hiebert, Kaur – a former federal NDP candidate in Hiebert’s South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale riding – said she has “hit a dead end.”

“I believe we should have an option,” she said, discounting the short form as “basically a head count.”

“The short form does not give a picture of what Canadians are all about. And if it’s not known what Canadians are really all about, then the people in power can say it’s whatever they want.”

Kaur emphasized that past political affiliations are not a factor in her protest.

“It wouldn’t matter which party was doing this – I would complain about it,” she said.

“If people want to have (the long form), they should have it.”

The federal government raised controversy last year when it announced its intention to do away with the mandatory long form, and substitute an eight-question census.

The more detailed information is now being gathered in a new long-form questionnaire, called the National Household Survey, which is being done as a random sampling of the population.

Statistics Canada census communications manager Peter Liang said this long-form questionnaire is going out to some 4.5 million households, or approximately a third of the population.

While he thanked Kaur for her concerns, Liang said the best thing she could do is urge those who have received the long-form questionnaire to complete and return it.

“Somebody who has done it will represent her,” he said, adding that a complex and non-discriminatory statistical sampling method has been applied to distribution of the longer form. “She would be doing a good service to the public to do that.”

Citizens demanding more detailed forms would be counter-productive, he said.

“It would potentially skew the representation of the sample,” he said. “It defeats the object of random sampling.”

But that doesn’t wash with Kaur, who noted that chief statistician Munir Sheikh resigned last year over the change in policy.

And Kaur says she mistrusts descriptions of a ‘random sample.’

“We don’t know who or why people are getting the long form. What is it – ethnicity, gender, haircut? They say random, but random is still selected by some mathematical formula.”

Kaur said she doesn’t fear repercussions from the government for burning her census form.

“I’d like to see them prosecuting a senior citizen for demanding the right to be counted properly,” she said. “Gandhi said it’s ‘our moral obligation to refuse to obey unjust laws’.”

About the Author: Alex Browne

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