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Steven Chase

Tories try Hogan's Heroes defence in census feud Add to ...

A senior Harper cabinet minister is invoking the Geneva Convention when defending his government's controversial decision to scrap a mandatory long-form census.

Treasury Board President Stockwell Day suggests prisoners of war face less onerous legal obligations to divulge information to the enemy than Canadians did under the old census regime.

"All we're saying is, people shouldn't be threatened with jail because they don't want to tell some unknown bureaucrat how many bedrooms they've got in their house," Mr. Day told Calgary radio station QR-77 on Friday.

"And you know, even prisoners of war only have to give their name, rank and serial number."

(Sister station 630 CHED has the audio archived. The minister's interview begins shortly after 10 a.m. and he discusses the census around 10:18.)

One-fifth of Canadian households have traditionally been required to answer a long-form questionnaire during census tallies conducted every five years.

The Tories defend their decision to make this form voluntary, saying people should not be obliged under fear of fines or jail to respond to detailed questions about home life, work and ethnicity.

"So all we're saying is, this should not be mandatory," Mr. Day told radio host Dave Rutherford.

"We live in an information age where any 12-year-old kid can push any button on the Internet and find out any information he or she wants without threatening a citizen that they're going to go to jail."

A former head statistician at Statistics Canada, Ivan Fellegi, has said that no Canadian has ever been jailed for refusing to fill out census forms.

Article 17 of the 1949 Geneva Convention says: "Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information."

While all households must still answer basic census questions, Ottawa is replacing a compulsory list of 50-plus questions about home life, work and ethnicity - traditionally sent to one-fifth of Canadians - with a voluntary version mailed to one-third.

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