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Census refusenik avoids <br/>fine and prison Add to ...

The Saskatchewan woman and former provincial Green Party leader who was convicted for refusing to fill out the long-form census has been spared a fine or jail time.

Sandra Finley was found guilty in a Saskatoon court last week for refusing in 2006 to complete a census form the Harper government has since made voluntary.

She faced the prospect of a maximum fine of $500 and potentially incarceration until Thursday when Madam Justice Sheila Whelan granted her an absolute discharge.

Ms. Finley said the judge in rendering her decision recognized the Conservative government's decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census. The Tories said the questionairre was intrusive and it was unfairly coercive to threaten people with punishment in order to extract answers.

"I need to celebrate," Ms. Finley said of the ruling. She is still considering an appeal of the verdict.

For eight years, Ms. Finley has repeatedly criticized the form as unnecessarily intrusive, and objects to Canada's past decisions to contract out census work to defence giant Lockheed Martin. When her census arrived in 2006, she refused to fill it out. After repeated warnings, she was charged under the Statistics Canada Act in March, 2008.

The principled stand, with its legal fallout, is precisely the type of case invoked by Industry Minister Tony Clement in justifying his move to make the long-form document optional.

Many within Statistics Canada, which reports to Mr. Clement, fear the move will skew the census, and the agency's chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, resigned amid the uproar over last summer's decision to make it optional. Ms. Finley supports the change, even though it will do her no good.

“It's not any use, because that charging section still applies based on 2006,” said Steven Seiferling, Ms. Finley's attorney.

Ms. Finley acknowledged she didn't fill out the form. Rather, she argued that the required long-form document violated her right under Section Eight of the Charter, which restricts “unreasonable search or seizure” of information. Judge Whelan dismissed the notion, saying Ms. Finley and her attorney “did not meet the burden of establishing a breach” of the section.

She's not the first to be convicted – among a handful of previous cases, Todd Stelmach of Kingston was convicted in 2009 of the same offence, and was fined $300.

With a report from Josh Wingrove

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

 

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