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The long way around the long census Add to ...

Industry Minister Tony Clement is the registered owner of a house in Brampton. It is a single-family detached home, with an estimated market value in 2008 of $509,000. It was built in 1971, he bought it in 1995 and, as of this past February, more than a year after he became the minister responsible for Statistics Canada, he owed $440,000 on it.

It has four bedrooms, two full bathrooms and two half-bathrooms.

Details about one's property - particularly the number of bedrooms in one's house - have been cited by Mr. Clement as the type of personal data the government shouldn't ask for on a mandatory census. "My position is we are standing on the side of those Canadians who have an objection to divulging very personal information to an arm of government and are subsequently threatened with jail time when they do not do so," Mr. Clement has said. But some of this type of information can be obtained by anyone with the time to look for it. The census isn't the source of the above information about Mr. Clement's houses (his other home is in Port Sydney). The Globe's research department found it using records from land registry offices and the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.

Much of the data gathered by the long-form census is already in the government's hands, and some of it is publicly available. The problem, census proponents say, is that there's no way to connect these various pieces of information into a complete picture and find the correlation between, say, education level and ownership of four-bedroom houses.

"One of the real emergent things that we can do, as social animals, is map ourselves," said Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. "You can't do it without census data," which, she adds, has the benefit of being anonymous.

A look at some of the other questions on the long-form census for which the government already holds data, or which can be found on the public record.

Is this person now, or has this person ever been, a landed immigrant?

The general public may not be able to discern your personal citizenship status, but the federal government holds some information on the subject. Citizenship and Immigration Canada aggregates some of this data and publishes an annual report on the number of permanent residents, foreign workers and international students in the country. The data also show where they settled, broken down by province and city.

Is this person an Aboriginal person, that is, North American Indian, Métis or Inuit (Eskimo)?

Status Indians must register with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, which keeps records of their birth and death dates, marriages and the band to which they belong.

Has this person completed a secondary (high) school diploma or equivalent?

This information is collected by provincial education ministries. These offices maintain files on current and former students with everything from contact information to their grades.

What was this person's work or occupation?

The Internet has made it possible to find out where someone works if they hold a management job, work in the professions or are references on a company website. Sites like LinkedIn.com and ZoomInfo use software to trawl the Internet for references to peoples' job history and assemble résumés and contact information for them. The picture, however, is largely incomplete, as it doesn't account for workers whose jobs aren't mentioned on the Internet.

How did this person usually get to work?

While non-census data don't show how each individual gets to their place of employment, it's possible to determine how many people use public transit and how many people drive on certain roads. Individual transit operators collect statistics on ridership, and groups like the American Public Transportation Association release annual reports detailing the number of people in North American cities that use subways, light rail, buses and commuter trains. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation, meanwhile, maintains an extensive database showing how many people use which provincial highways at what time.

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