Tag Archives: Canada

A Day in my Life, with Census Data

To follow up on my last post about census data, and a great conversation with some local librarians a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try to brainstorm the ways census data impacts my daily life. I’m not talking about how I or my colleagues might use it in research, but actual, concrete people, places and things in my day-to-day that would not be the same without good data from the long-form census. The hyperlinks below track to news articles or open letters to the government about the importance of the long-form census for specific reasons. Some of these links are PDFs.

I wake up in my housing co-op (built with support of gov’t programs for affordable housing, informed by data on income and housing).

Wave to my hearing-impaired neighbour and her service dog (supported by disability advocacy based on the census and the census-based Participation and Activity Limitations Survey).

Bike to my bus stop, on bike routes planned with information from the census.

Take transit to work – on an express route planned based on commuting time/mode data and housing density information.

If I arrive a few minutes early, I might stop by a coffee shop on my way in to the office. The store’s business plan was informed by census data, which helped the business owners know they had a market in that neighbourhood.

Arrive at work, which for me and over 12,000 others at my institution alone, is at a University.Universities rely on long-form data for planning programs and projecting enrollment.

Over lunch, read the news. Reporters frequently use publicly-available data from the long form census, as they did in this article this weekend.

Perhaps on the way home I visit some sort of health-care provider. It’s not unheard of. Health services planners and health care provider professional associations use census data to help plan efficient and community-responsive services and care. Medical researchers also rely on census data.

Pick up child at (French language) school and take him the public library (which has a convenient storefront location and services tailored for our community based on the census community profiles)

On our way out of the library/community centre, admire the new mural put in by local artists. Cultural councils and government arts programs rely on census data to provide information about cultural workers in Canada, who are often non-traditionally employed and under-represented in other types of counts.

Arriving home, say hi to our neighbours and admire their new foster-baby. They are foster parents, and the social work system depends on census data to identify and respond to community needs.

After dinner, attend a co-op meeting at which we discuss our federal grant application for energy-efficient upgrades to our building. Such programs for home renovations are generally informed by data about home repair needs and community housing needs.

Your day is different from mine. Perhaps during your day you interact with census data by visiting your religious institution. Perhaps you participate in an immigrant settlement program. Perhaps you are job-seeking or retraining after a layoff. Maybe you do unpaid work to care for an elder in your community or volunteer or eat at a soup kitchen.

To sum up, without good census data:

  • My house might not exist, or
  • might not be getting the needed repairs to the building envelope.
  • Disability advocacy would be set back.
  • I might not have bike routes or
  • convenient public transit in my neighbourhood or connecting to my workplace.
  • Local businesses would have less accurate business plans and thus be more likely to fail.
  • Universities would have a harder time planning for the future.
  • News reporters would lose an accurate source of information.
  • Health services would be less well-planned for my community’s needs.
  • Medical research would be set back.
  • We might not have so many French-language public schooling options in our predominantly-anglophone province.
  • Library planning would be a challenge.
  • Artists and cultural workers would be even less well supported than they already are.
  • Our social work system would be weakened.

And that’s just the things I can think of in one day of my little life.

What things in your life are impacted by census data?



Leave a comment

Filed under government, government information

Census Privacy is the Harper gov’t’s Girl-Power Barbie

I’m going to go ahead and assume anyone who’s reading this blog knows about the Canadian government’s recent decision to scrap the mandatory long-form national census, and attempt to replace it with a voluntary “National Household Survey” (NHS).

I’m going to assume you all know that the information from long form census is used for all kinds of governmental and non-governmental planning, including social programs, financial allotments for various uses, and, yes, library service planning.

I’m going to assume that readers all have the basic statistical proficiency (that the leaders of the Conservative party apparently lack) to know that a mandatory survey with near 100% compliance given to 20% of the population will almost certainly have greater validity that a voluntary survey of 33% of the population, because even if the absolute numbers of responses are the same under both surveys the response rate in the latter will almost certainly be lower and thus reflect self-selection/non-response bias. This, by the way, is a neat way to create policy-based evidence.

I’m also going to assume you know that the Tories are holding fast to their position, even in the face of the Chief Statistician of Canada’s resignation and overwhelming outcry from people who are not always allies on the issues.

Throughout this whole kerfuffle, the Harper government has insisted that the change is due to privacy concerns. They insist that the long form is too invasive. That people think the state should not be requiring that individuals report such personal information as the number of bedrooms in their dwellings and how we travel to work. Etc.

You probably also know that little evidence has been produced to back up the claim that many people are concerned about the invasiveness of the questions on the long-form (although in the most recent 2006 census there were refuseniks on the basis of the gov’t subcontracting census work to Lockheed, an issue that is going unmentioned today).

Privacy, eh?

Privacy, my foot! This change has nothing to do with privacy. Scrapping the long form does incredibly little to improve privacy of Canadians, and in fact may even make our personal data less private and secure.

Here’s some info about the long-form census, and voluntary StatsCan surveys, in terms of privacy. All of this is written to the best of my knowledge, so if anyone works with census data or has StatsCan connections and can clarify or expand on any of the below points, please do let me know.:

Public Release of Data

Full census data is normally released to the public after 92 years. Since the passage of S-18 in 2005, there has been an opt-in check box on the census, which must be checked in order to release that data after 92 years. Opt-in, while frustrating to researchers and genealogists who wanted opt-out instead, is a pretty high standard of privacy protection. Voluntary surveys are not released to the public, ever. Thus, it would seem that the NHS would be more private, 93 years from now, than the census. Or, rather, it would seem so if Tony Clement hadn’t assured us that they were changing things so the NHS will also be available after 92 years No word as of yet on whether the NHS will have an opt-in box.

Commercial Interest Intervention

Commercial firms do not have access to the census planning process. Commercial firms as well as non-profit researchers may purchase modules  for many voluntary surveys from Stats Can (e.g., the Canadian Community Health Survey), however. Should the long form census remain a voluntary survey, I would not be surprised at all if business were eventually granted access to this survey too. In fact, I would expect it, if the survey loses the “sacredness” of the National Census.

Privacy Safeguards

While we might never be fully confident that stewards of any data could never possibly misuse it, the census is subject to privacy safeguards above and beyond other surveys. Disclosure for any purpose prior to the 92-year blackout period would be subject to fines and penalties under the Statistics Act, which requires StatsCan employees working with this data to be sworn to secrecy. Unlike other StatsCan surveys, the Census is not available to researchers outside StatsCan as a full microdata file. It is also not eligible to be linked with other databases, unlike other data sources including other StatsCan surveys. Again, should the long-form census turn into and assume the norms of a voluntary survey, these safeguards will likely be lost.

The Short Form & Privacy

The still-mandatory short form, which nobody appears to be speaking out against, provides plenty of information on which to base discrimination (name, age, sex, marital status including whether partner is same or opposite sex, first language learned). Sexual orientation is pretty personal and invasive to ask everyone to disclose on a mandatory basis, if you ask me — perhaps more so than many of the questions on the long-form. First language-learned gives a lot of ethnicity & immigration information, even without the long form asking about where your ancestors came from.

As comment poster LindL on the Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog writes, of the move to scrap the long form but retain the short form,

“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. What you’re arguing is equivalent to ‘Stealing is wrong. So I’m not going to steal a car, instead I’ll just steal a bicycle’.”

Harper’s Privacy = Girl-Power Barbie

The Harper government is using privacy as a red herring here. Calling these changes to the census good for privacy is like calling a “girl power Barbie” feminist – in other words disingenuous cooptation of a real issue in order to improve market share. I fear that to take the Harper/Clement argument at face value – that this change is about privacy – is to play right into their hands.

What is the Harper government’s interpretation of Census privacy? Well, apparently that applies to the government need/ability to make private and unseen the concerns of Canadians regarding the census changes! The long-form census, although second top rated issue by participants in the recent digital economy econsultation, was buried on the site(Although I wouldn’t vote for this very specific issue to be the top concern of Canada’s digital economy, I am quite impressed that it got so many votes, continuing to add votes and hold second place *even after it was buried* on the site and could only be accessed via a direct URL.)

As a privacy and social justice advocate, the long-form census is not what I am worried about. There are a lot of less secure sources of data out there, with less redeeming social value to worry about. For me, the benefits of  responsible, privacy-sensitive data collection and stewardship sometimes outweigh the risks, but I can respect opposing opinions.

It’s one thing if you oppose any government collection of personal data. That I can respect. I think it’s a perspective that usually comes from a position of privilege, and I don’t take this stance myself, but I can respect it if you think the long form should be scrapped along with a whole bunch of other things, on principle. But THIS? Only scrapping the long form? That is not about privacy. If you want to campaign for the end of all government information gathering, fine, but the census is really not the place to start. And don’t think for a moment that the Conservative government is on your side  an end to government information-gathering

However, in a practical sense, this change is not improving the privacy of Canadians in any measurable way, and is in fact eroding the privacy of those who answer the voluntary survey as well as hurting those who don’t by virtue of providing a skewed and unreliable demographic profile of Canada.

Silver Lining?

On the upside, if they do go ahead with this plan to convert the long-form to voluntary National Household Survey, I think it’s likely that whoever is in power in 2016 will change it back. In that case, while we’ll lose the 2011 data for planning and research purposes, it will be interesting to see how and to what extent making a survey voluntary creates deviations from trends (i.e., we may be able to tease out which subgroups will & won’t respond to a voluntary survey). A natural experiment in the making!


ps – For whatever it’s worth, I agree with Sandra Finley that the census software etc should not be subcontracted to Lockheed Martin – much like I do not think the BC MSP data should be with Maximus. But that’s another kettle of fish.

pps- Tracey over at datalibre.ca has been researching the census as part of her PhD research and has been chronicling this recent debacle quite comprehensively.


Filed under ethics, government, government information, inclusion/exclusion, privacy

4 things about copyright

1) New Canadian “Copyright Modernization Act” bill C-32 (yes, again) introduced yesterday. Lots of commentary on it sprouting up all over. General sentiment, so far as I can tell thus far, is that many things are much improved over past versions of the bill, but the digital locks provision trumps most of them and sets a potentially dangerous “slippery slope” that reaches far beyond copyright.

2) I cannot fully express how exciting it is to hear mainstream media discussing copyright! This is so different from how the DMCA went down in the US in ’98. It is a huge thrill to hear people on my city bus talking about digital locks and blank media levies!

3) Today, coincidentally, I received an email reply from someone at Industry Canada regarding my missing copyright submission:

Good Afternoon Mr. Greyson:
This is in response to your enquiry below.
First, I would like to apologize for the long delay on responding to you.
Your submission has now been posted.
You can find your submission on our Web site at:
http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/008.nsf/eng/04152.html (in English)
http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/008.nsf/fra/04152.html (in French)
Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at the coordinates below.

Yay for that! And to anyone else whose submission might be missing, I encourage you to contact Industry Canada to inquire about your submission’s whereabouts. Although it may seem moot at the moment, I think there are significant future research uses of these submission transcripts.

4) Finally, what’s up with Access Copyright? I heard back in April that they filed a proposal for a significant change in the Post-Secondary Educational Institution Tariff for 2011-201311, but not much follow-up. I’m hoping to learn more about this process, and how it does (or doesn’t?) play with the proposed copyright legislation.

4 things on copyright (for SJL)

Inbox X


Devon Greyson

to me

show details 12:52 PM (8 hours ago)
4 things on copyright:

1) New Canadian copyright bill C-32 (yes, again) introduced yesterday. Lots of commentary on it sprouting up all over.

2) I cannot express how *exciting* it is to hear mainstream media discussing copyright! This is so different from how the DMCA went down in the US in ’98. It is a huge thrill to hear people on my city bus talking about digital locks and blank media levies!

3) Today, coincidentally, I received an email reply from someone at Industry Canada regarding my missing copyright submission:

Good Afternoon Mr. Greyson:
This is in response to your enquiry below.
First, I would like to apologize for the long delay on responding to you.
Your submission has now been posted.
You can find your submission on our Web site at:
http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/008.nsf/eng/04152.html (in English)
http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/008.nsf/fra/04152.html (in French)
Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at the coordinates below.

Yay for that! And to anyone else whose submission might be missing, I encourage you to contact Industry Canada to inquire about your submission’s whereabouts — although it may seem moot at the moment, I think there are significant future research uses of these submission transcripts.

4) Finally, what’s up with Access Copyright? I heard backin April that they filed a proposal for a significant change in the Post-Secondary Educational Institution Tariff for 2011-2013, but not much follow-up. I’m hoping to learn more about this process, and how it does (or doesn’t http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Access-Copyright-Is-Deeply-Concerned-Governments-Lack-Support-Remuneration-Creators-1270887.htm ) play with the proposed copyright legislation.

Devon Greyson, MLIS
Information Specialist
UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research
201-2206 East Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z3
ph: 604-822-7353
fax: 604-822-5690



Filed under copyright, IP

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under copyright, democracy, government

CRTC issues net neutrality ruling

And here it is.

I won’t have time to fully parse the policy decision till tonight, but my initial impression is that it’s a feeble gesture in the right direction (that being net neutrality), clad in nationalist bombast (“Canada is the first country to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to internet traffic management practices”).

At a glance, it seems that ISPs are still allowed to “traffic shape” but out and out throttling is discouraged unless the ISP feels it’s really necessary. Consumers are now supposed to be informed if their ISP is going to change traffic shaping practices, and consumers can complain, which will then possible trigger an investigation that will ask the ISP to explain what and why. There are also some new privacy guidelines for deep packet inspection.

So ISPs are still allowed to throttle, and to conduct deep packet inspection, but they have to jump through a few more hoops to do so now than they did before. There are also some new restrictions about wholesale ISP services, which I hope will help small ISPs remain competitive and viable.

Any other thoughts on the ruling would be very welcome.

Some initial coverage:

CBC coverage here (CBC’s been hot on the NN file since the throttling of Next Great Prime Mnister).

“Big telecommunications companies such as Bell and Rogers can interfere with internet traffic only as a last resort, the CRTC says. Instead, they should use “economic measures” such as new investment and usage limits to combat congestion on their networks.”

Michael Geist’s take is here (Geist obviously knew some things I didn’t know about what was coming down the pipe on this one!  <–Unsurprising):

Impressively optimistic excerpt:

“The CRTC’s net neutrality (aka traffic management) decision is out and though it does not go as far as some advocates might hope, it unquestionably advances the ball forward on several important fronts…Today’s CRTC decision signifies that traffic management is not a free-for-all and the days of ISPs arguing that they can do whatever they please on their networks is over.  That said, it also guarantees that traffic management practices such as throttling will continue and it is going to take more complaints to concretely address the issue.”

More to come, after I’ve had a chance to read & digest more.



Filed under government, net neutrality

My copyright consultation submission

Jumping on the blogger bandwagon, I am posting the text of my copyright consultation submission here. Nothing much here that others haven’t said better already, but it seems like this type of public recording may be a good idea.


To Whom it May Concern,

Thank you for providing this special opportunity for Canadians to make our voices heard by our lawmakers. Please find below my responses to the questions posed on the Copyright eConsultation Website:

1. How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you? How should existing laws be modernized?

As a librarian, university instructor, researcher, writer, musician and parent to an avid young media consumer, copyright affects me in multiple ways, every day.

As a librarian I frequently instruct others on legal use and re-use of books, articles, music, video, and other media. One thing I notice all the time is how confusing and unclear copyright is to the average person. People need to be able to understand the basics of copyright; no one should need a law degree to understand if they are acting within the law while watching a video or photocopying a poem.

As a university instructor I experience the frustration of my students as they face long waits for inter-library loans that their friends at U.S. schools do not experience, and when they cannot access materials that would benefit their work. My students and I need to be able to access various types of media for educational use and re-use. Copyright law should encourage open dissemination of scholarly research and fair dealing for educational use of media.

As a researcher and writer I publish both scholarly and creative works. These works are very different in terms of my copyright needs as a creator, as my scholarly works benefit me not by paying me royalties for copies sold, but rather by raising my reputation and profile in the scholarly community; thus as a scholarly writer I aim for maximum dissemination, not maximum profit.

As a media consumer and parent to a burgeoning media consumer, I am wary of legal threats by large recording companies, and at the same time wary of wasting money purchasing media that will become obsolete or unusable at some point in the future (due to DRM/TPM/digital “locks” that restrict legal use of media). I am also quite concerned about threats to our family’s privacy that are inherent in some technological protection measure. I recoil in horror at the stories from the US about single mums, teens and college students being targeted by lawsuits brought by large media companies because of non-commercial online music sharing, and would hate to see Canada brought down this same ridiculous path.

2. Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright changes be made in order to withstand the test of time?

Copyright law should be based on strong basic principles, not complicated exceptions and loopholes. It should distinguish between commercial and non-commercial infringement, and promote legal re-use and re-mixing of Canadian material.

People accused of infringement should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and third party companies such as Internet service providers (ISPs) should not be asked to enforce the law.

Strong fair dealing provisions protecting library/archive/educational use of media are crucial to preserving Canadian national heritage.

In order to encourage use and dissemination of Canadian resources, government publications should be public domain, not subject to restrictive Crown Copyright licenses.

Copyright law should acknowledge that people own a device or copy of media once they pay for it, and any legal use of that media/device is legal, regardless of the technology they use to play or read it.

Finally, in order to stand the test of time, copyright changes should remain technology neutral as much as possible  — For example: while a decade ago we used to exchange “mix CDs” with friends to share and promote our favourite music, today’s youth naturally and natively communicate via the Internet; our old-fashioned understanding of media use should not criminalise our children’s same use of materials using different technology. One element of this involves the “blank media levy” from the late 1990’s, which is inconsistently applied to today’s technologies and should either be expanded as the Canadian solution to dealing with right-to-copy or taken off the books all together.

3. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster innovation and creativity in Canada?

In order to best foster innovation and creativity in Canada, we should put public (government) publications into the hands of the people by publishing all Canadian government publications directly into the public domain (as in the US), rather than publishing them under Crown Copyright. Similarly, the Berne Convention standard term of life of the author plus 50 years is a sufficiently long copyright period to stimulate new creative works, while keeping them out of the public domain for longer (as some countries have chosen to so) inhibits creativity that can spring from derivative works.

Canada should broaden “fair dealing” to include parody and satire (as in the US), in order to encourage free expression.

Copyright law should allow all legal use of media, without laws specifically targeting DRM/TPM circumvention.  If someone is circumventing digital locks for criminal purposes, that criminal use is already illegal. Criminalizing DRM/TPM circumvention is akin to criminalizing physical lock-picking, even if the lock-picker is merely trying to enter their own house.

Canada should explicitly support a diversity of licensing options, to allow fine-tuning of rights management (I personally like to publish under Creative commons licenses, whenever possible) so creators can freely allow certain uses of their works.

4. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster competition and investment in Canada?

Copyright law should maintain a “notice and notice” rather than “notice and takedown” (or 3-strikes) rule for potential copyright infringement. Putting ISPs in charge of policing users’ content not only changes the ISPs’ role, making them deal inappropriately with content rather than focusing on infrastructure, but also creates a hostile environment to creativity, innovation, and free expression, discouraging investment and competition in Canada.

Remaining technology-neutral, and basing policy on over-arching principles of copyright, encourages innovation, competition and investment. Specifying particular formats and technologies such as VHS, mp3, or PVRs in copyright law not only makes a law become obsolete very quickly in today’s world, it discourages future innovative use and development of these and other technologies.

Swift dissemination of information facilitates innovation, and encourages uptake and discovery of Canadian innovations in the marketplace. Supporting a diversity of licensing options to facilitate freer and more open communications and reuse of media, and putting government publications directly into the public domain, are ways to encourage openness and quick dissemination of innovations, supporting Canadian innovations.

5. What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in the global, digital economy?

All of the above. To summarize, new Canadian Copyright law should maintain Canadian values and promote Canada as leader in the digital age by:

  • Being comprehensible by “regular” people
  • Limiting fines for non-commercial copyright infringement
  • Being based on longstanding principles, not specific technologies
  • Expanding “fair dealing” to include parody and satire, as well as strong educational/archival/library exemptions
  • Eliminating Crown Copyright, making Canadian government publications public domain
  • Avoiding anti-circumvention measures
  • Avoiding “notice and takedown”/3-strikes measures, functioning rather with “notice-and-notice” provisions when infringement is alleged
  • Supporting finely-tuned copyright options such as Creative Commons licenses, to allow creators to better manage their rights and encourage maximum legal reuse of media

Thank you for this opportunity to respond to these pressing questions via the Canadian Copyright e-Consultation, and for your consideration of all the responses.


Filed under copyright, government

Canada’s Copyright Consultation – You have until Sept 13!

I’m back from summer holidays to remind you to submit your copyright consultation comments!  And to let you know that Vancouver Fair Copyright Coalition has made a pretty awesome guide to participating in the online copyright consultations. Copyright Consultation Made Easy (pdf) appears to my eyes to be truly intelligible to “regular” people (which is to say, you need good literacy skills but not lots of tech skills or prior intelletcual property law knowledge).

No, it’s not comprehensive (no mention of crown copyright, for example, a topic that is one of my own pet peeves), but the simplicity is part of the beauty of the thing.

Check it out and pass it along!

And don’t forget to add your comments to the e-consultation before Sept 13! http://copyright.econsultation.ca/


1 Comment

Filed under copyright