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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to journalists after a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall on Aug. 6, 2010

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government will not use fines or jail terms just to get people to fill out a census.

Mr. Harper was commenting on Monday for the first time about the firestorm of controversy over his government's decision to stop making the completion of the long census form mandatory.

The Prime Minister says Ottawa will work with the public to find other ways to get it to co-operate on providing the information.

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"I know some people think the appropriate way to deal with that is through prosecuting those individuals with fines and jail terms," said Mr. Harper. "This government will not do that. In this day and age, that is not the appropriate way to get the public's co-operation."

The federal government has said next year's long-form questionnaire will be voluntary and go to 30 per cent of households, and it could be cancelled completely in the future.

The Harper government has been under pressure to reverse its decision, a move that sparked the resignation of the head of Statistics Canada, Munir Sheikh.

A broad-based group of critics say eliminating the mandatory form will deal a blow to the quality of data by skewing the results.

With a report from Globe and Mail staff

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