Category Archives: democracy

Wanted: Catchy Census PSAs

Believe it or not, Rafe Mair brought it home for me in his recent Tyee article.  He boils down his response to:

I must say, without intending to hedge, that my opposition takes the form of simple questions.

Why do you want this information?

What specific purpose is it used for?

Right! The people who don’t use the census data on a regular basis don’t necessarily realize how their whole life is so essentially shaped by it. Thanks for the reminder, Rafe. We are so easily blinded by our own little experiences.

Reading along with the Census long form debacle, I have eventually come to realize that part of the whole problem here is that the federal government has done a really terrible job of PR around the census and its uses. Yes, there were political reasons behind the scrapping of the mandatory long-form data collection tool, but such arguments would have no toehold with a population that was by and large aware of the importance of good census data. People know this isn’t really about privacy (as the government claimed) or jail time (since no one has ever gone to jail over the census), but many people don’t know what the big deal about the census is. I mean, census data sounds kinda wonkish and boring. Until you realize how different your life would be without it.

While clearly many people and organizations are aware (as of this morning’s Census Watch tally lists 10 individuals & organizations on record against the mandatory long-form census and over 300 on record in favour of keeping it mandatory), many other people are like Rafe Mair – suspicious of the government, and unaware and uninformed about the actual uses of the census data.

Now, the current government may have ideological agendas driving the neglect of such public education, but past governments have been similarly neglectful.

It’s not that we don’t have the ability to do decent PR here: Canadians still remember the 60-year-old Swede outrunning the 30-year-old Canadian in the ParticipACTION ads from the ‘70’s. It’s only a lack of political will that has prevented similar census ads letting Canadians know why they must fill our their census forms.

Apparently the ad campaign for the US 2010 census was projected to save the government tons of money by improving compliance and reducing the need for door-knockers. Although the Tories are obviously not concerned about saving money, deciding to pay more for less with a voluntary census with larger mailout, for the truly fiscal conservative, such savings might be a selling point.

While nowhere near as catchy as the original ParticipACTION campaign, the US Census 2010 ads do a decent job of addressing common concerns (e.g., confidentiality, how do you know the person at your door is really a census taker) and tell people WHY the census is important with soundbytes like:

A proper count is vital in assuring your community receives proper representation, as well as the funding it needs for services like job training, schools, roads and transportation


By answering the questions, your residence will be counted, and you’ll be helping your community get its fair share of $400 billion in federal funds.

Oh! Legislative districts are drawn based on census data! Funding for job training, schools, roads and transit are also based on census data! That’s why the government wants to know this stuff!

Reading some of the 300+ the open letters to the Canadian government that oppose the census changes gives one a glimpse of the wide swath and diversity of Canadians who are concerned with this issue. Few other issues unite ethnic-cultural community groups with economists with librarians with the medical association.

Reading the letters also gives a nice picture of the diversity of uses to which the data is put, and clarifies exactly why the census does ask things like:

  • when you commute to work (for transportation planning),
  • whether your home is in need of repair (for housing renewal strategizing), and
  • whether anyone living with you has a disability (for health care as well as community accessibility planning purposes).

Some of the letters are linked from the datalibre Census Watch list, and I encourage you to go skim some. However, I recognize that not everyone has the time, interest, or ability to read a bunch of advocacy letters.

That’s why what we need in Canada is a Census PSA campaign that mashes up the 2010 US Census style clear information-delivery with the uniquely Canadian aesthetic of the old skool ParticipACTION ads.

Any takers?



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Filed under democracy, government, government information

BCLA Letter Regarding G20 & Intellectual Freedom

I am really proud of the British Columbia Library Association for writing and publishing such an eloquent letter about the “unprecedented curtailment of civil liberties that took place at the June 2010 meeting of the G20 in Toronto.”

While some may shy away from library association advocacy on issues that are not immediately and obviously tied to library existance, the BCLA connects the dots between intellectual freedom as a core value of librarianship, and the curtailing of free expression in public space.

When the media is silenced, when citizens are not allowed to peacably gather in public spaces or express their opinions, this is an issue for libraries and librarians.

Just as the definition of librarianship today must expand beyond the bricks-and-mortar library building to include librarians who work in communities and doing other types of skilled information work, so must library advocacy not be confined to advocating for library funding and the library book rate. As librarians it is up to us to advocate for and uphold the core values of our profession.

Other coverage of the letter: Sam Trosow, Post-G20 Bulletin


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Was the copyright e-consultation bad for democracy?

According to Michael Geist, Steven Harper’s office has called for a new “Canadian DMCA Bill Within Six Weeks.”  Geist has been “Covering the Return of the Canadian DMCA” lately, giving us all a heads-up that new legislation is coming down the pike. (All this hubub is apparently much to the displeasure of Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, who would allegedly like us to chill out, push copyright from our minds and wait until he’s ready to unveil the bill.)

While yet another bad Canadian copyright bill will be a disappointment, (and approximately round eight-billion of the same ridiculous fight) what really scares me is the impact of this on participatory democracy.

There were 8,100 submissions to the 2009 copyright consultation! It was pretty amazing, and manyfold the response to previous traditional-format consultations on the same topic. The online consultation format allowed for public participation on a scale unheard of ever before for such a topic.

And if all that participation makes no difference to the bill resulting from that consultation process? If the message the government chooses to give the people is that they laugh in the face of our puny little consultation submissions? That it is pointless to try to contribute our experiences and knowledge to our policymakers?

If Geist is corrent in his assessment thatThe consultation appears to have been little more than theatre,” Who will participate in the next one? Who wants to waste their time crafting letters that will never be read, or used? What is the point?

I fear that the day of the introduction of the new copyright bill will be not only a bad day for Canadian copyright, but a sad day for the future of Canadian participatory democracy.


ps – Near the end of writing this post, I went to the copyright e-consultation website and looked for the record of my submission. It was one of the many that came in on the last few days of the consultation, and the office was so bombarded with the overwhelming response that they annouced that it would take a while before they could make all submisisons public. However, I still can’t find mine. Can you find yours? I have a copy of the email, in my sent mail box, and as you know I posted a copy of it here after I sent it off. However, I can’t find it on the consultation website. ??? Are there others in this same boat, still?

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Filed under copyright, democracy, government