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Commuters get off the subway at Toronto's Union Station in 2008. (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski/The Canadian Press)
Commuters get off the subway at Toronto's Union Station in 2008. (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski/The Canadian Press)

Filling out census 'no big deal,' groups say Add to ...

Filling out the longer census form is "no big deal" and the benefits for Canadians far outweigh any inconvenience, a coalition of social, financial and academic organizations said Tuesday.

Members from a wide range of sectors are urging the federal government to reverse its decision to scrap the long census form.

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The coalition said the government must keep the census long form, arguing the lack of data will be disastrous for social policy and planning, as well as health and community programs.

"I have in the past been solicited to fill out the long form," said the president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Mel Cappe.

He admitted the census form was intrusive and took some extra time, but said that statistically Canadians will only be asked to fill out the form once every 25 years.

"That's not that big a deal," Mr. Cappe said.

The mandatory long census form is being replaced with a voluntary survey next year, something the coalition said will provide virtually useless data.

Don Drummond, an economics adviser to TD Bank Financial Group as well as a member of the national advisory council for Statistics Canada, also weighed in.

He said white middle class people would be over-represented in a voluntary census and the valuable information gained from studying census data as it changes every five years would be lost.

"We'll have this break in the data," Mr. Drummond said. "I think we're going to be in a fog."

The director of Toronto Public Health, Carol Timmings, said her department would never have been able to target the most vulnerable people in the city during the H1N1 pandemic without census data.

She said only a small of number of vaccines was provided in the early days of the scare and it was important to make sure they got to the right people.

Ms. Timmings said the burden of filling out the form must be balanced with the value of what the information brings to Canadians.

"I think it's making the data real and helping them see how that information matters and can impact in a positive way their lives."

The government showed no sign of changing its position Tuesday.

"I think that government forcing people, threatening to put people in jail if they don't tell the government how many bathrooms they have is a bit heavy-handed, and a bit ridiculous frankly," Transport Minister John Baird said in Ottawa.

"We will respect people's right to privacy."

The government will still make sure all the appropriate information is gathered, added Marjorie LeBreton, who leads the Tories in the Senate.

"There's still going to be a long form. The only difference is, this is voluntary. Canadians, I believe and we believe, will be very happy to fill in the long forms," she said.

"The only difference between what we're doing and what was done in the past is that we, as John said, we will not be throwing people in jail and threatening them with fines and chasing them around forever for not filling in the long form."

Industry Minister Tony Clement has said the decision was in response to Canadians who found the questions in the mandatory long form too intrusive.

According to government plans as they now stand, the mandatory short form, which includes questions about the number of people in a household and the language they speak there, would stay the same.

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