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An online discussion about Canada's census mysteriously vanished from a federal consultation on the digital economy as more groups emerged that oppose the Conservative government's decision to make the long census voluntary instead of mandatory.

Industry Canada had been leading a wide-ranging consultation on the digital economy for the past two months. With only a few days left for Canadians to register their views, a debate on the census had become the second most popular topic.

Last week, the census was featured on the Digital Economy Consultation home page as one of the top three "ideas," under a video message by Industry Minister Tony Clement.

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"The census long form provides us with critical labour market information that is necessary to carry out long-term human resource planning," Lee Jacobs of the Information and Communications Technology Council posted to the discussion.

"It is, in our opinion, paramount to save the long form."

But by the weekend, all obvious links to the discussion thread were gone. The only way to access the page was to input the precise Internet address separately.

An Industry Canada spokesman said Monday that the discussion was moved to an "off topic" section because it was not deemed relevant.

"While the changes to the census are important, they are not directly related to the development of a digital economy strategy for Canada," Michel Cimpaye said in an e-mail.

The Conservative cabinet decided this month to replace the mandatory long census with a voluntary survey next year. Mr. Clement said the decision was based on the fact that some Canadians found the mandatory process coercive and the detailed questions intrusive.

Critics from a wide range of business, social and academic groups say the data from voluntary surveys are simply not as reliable because certain groups are unlikely to respond.

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Industry Canada did not provide answers Monday to questions about what had happened to the links.

Peggy Taillon, president of the Canadian Council on Social Development, began contacting the department on Friday to ask about the lost links but had not received a response.

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