The continuing tyranny of collective self-government

Note: You can still go to jail for not filling out the census
An employee make his way to work at Statistics Canada in Ottawa on July 21, 2010. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says public service spending cuts have mostly focused on service delivery, contradicting the Harper government’s assurances that cuts would spare front-line resources. Statistics Canada will take the largest proportional loss, losing a third of its staff according to the study. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Bert Easterbrook of New Westminster, BC has apparently been charged for refusing to fill out the 2011 census.

Easterbrook told CBC News he “finds it sickening that a tax-paying citizen has to choose between a three-month prison sentence and willingly giving personal, private information.”

Of course, at least until someone is actually put in prison for refusing to fill out the census, it is a mostly theoretical threat. Mr. Easterbrook also objects to Lockheed Martin’s involvement and he notes that other federal departments already have information about him, but the non-census models of Scandinavia might raise even greater concerns about privacy.

It was, of course, a concern about the threat of jail that was part of the explanation for doing away with a mandatory long-form census. Thing is, the Harper government did not remove the threat of prison from the short-form census. The Liberals proposed to maintain mandatory long-form and short-form censuses without either including the threat of jail time—failure to fill out either could have still resulted in a fine of up to $500—but the government rejected that approach. What we are left with then is a short-form census that still carries a threat of prison and a National Household Survey that produces less useful datacosts more to conduct and has been discounted by the planners of this country’s biggest city.

However empty it might be, the threat of jail is probably excessive and could probably be withdrawn, and perhaps we could have a debate too about the questions asked, but probably we also have to accept at some point that so long as we’re interested in maintaining democratic self-government we will have some level of responsibility to each other and it would be best if we had reliable data to guide our decisions about the future course of our country.