Canada Census and Queers

I’ve been going through some old files and I found this letter from 1999 to CBC radio on the issue of The Canada Census including a sexual orientation question. (which they still do not have – we can only identify if living as a couple – and not on par with het couples, but put on par with living with an extended family member – so the change they did make to include a portion of queers, was done in a discriminatory fashion)

Re: Historians vs StatsCan – Broadcast Nov 8/99

I caught the end part of a discussion on CBC this morning (about 9:30 am) regarding the above captioned topic.

I was stunned to hear the StatsCan PR person, Bruce Phillips (?) state that StatsCan is going to be asking a Canadians their sexual orientation. And not at all surprised that Phillips considered this to be potentially embarrassing information for descendants of anyone identifying this on census.

While I am writing this letter only from myself and my own view, I am a member of the December 9 Coalition, and a member of the StatsCan subcommittee of that coalition. We have an on-going human rights complaint against StatsCan for not including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered Canadians.

StatsCan is NOT going to ask Canadians to identify as straight, gay or lesbian individuals. StatsCan is only considering allowing gay and lesbian couples to identify within the relationship question. (They are continuing to refuse to even consider counting bisexuals and transgendered individual Canadians.)

For Phillips to then suggest that the descendants of an individual willing to identify to their government that they are gay or lesbian would be embarrassed by that information if it were to be released 100 years from now is absolutely incredible. Doesn’t he think that the descendants would know already? Does he actually believe that social attitudes towards sexuality will remain unchanged – as sophomoric and archaic as today’s – over such a length of time?

By blatantly suggesting that there would be something inherently embarrassing about information that a particular individual was gay or lesbian, is clear evidence of StatsCan’s systemic discrimination and lack of understanding of the gay and lesbian communities.

For a StatsCan representative to falsely describe a future data collection as the reason to deny another lobby group access to detailed census material from the 1901 census is absolutely astounding to me. Absolutely astounding.

Nina Tryggvason
(electronically generated and therefore not signed)

 

I was a member of Vancouver’s December 9 Coalition – and was on the sub-committee that filed a human rights complaint against Statistics Canada.

Tuesday, May 25, 1999

 

Federal Human Rights Commission

??? Hornby St

Vancouver, BC

 

Via Hand

Attention: (insert investigator or tribunal chair name), title

 

Re:    December 9 Coalition

– and –

Statistics Canada

          Complaint under the Federal Human Rights Act (as amended – WHATEVER THEIRS SAID)

 

In our view, Statistics Canada is clouding the issue of their systemic barriers for the gay and lesbian community by blaming the gay and lesbian community itself for not being counted by Statistics Canada.

 

Statistics Canada has failed to fulfill agreements made with community representatives with respect to advertising for the 1996 Census in Vancouver-area gay and lesbian community newspapers. This advertising was intended to explain to gay and lesbian couples how to complete the census forms to indicate their family status.

 

Statistics Canada has admitted that they do not have a sufficient understanding of the gay and lesbian community to begin to analyze the data already collected. Indeed, in a telephone conference from the office of federal MP Dr Hedy Fry, on Tuesday April 1st, 1997, with Doug Norris (head of Statistics Canada’s family-statistics division), advised December 9 Coalition members Jerome Ryckborst, Nina Tryggvason, Ann Marie McInnis and Bill Weston, that during Statistics Canada’s processing of data from the 1991 Census, when respondents self-identified as a same-sex couple and also identified children in the household, Statistics Canada changed the responses from “Other: same-sex partner,” which respondents would have had to write in by hand, to “roommates,” which was one of the pre-printed choices on the Census form. The explanation for these changes: gays or lesbian couples are assumed not to have children, therefore the responses must be incorrect. This process is called “editing” by Statistics Canada. At the risk of stating the obvious, assumptions of this kind are offensive to our communities.  But beyond that, such assumptions are themselves examples of the kinds of false stereotyping that we wish to correct through inclusion of our communities  in the census.

 

It is our view that Statistics Canada is resistant to including gay and LESBIAN Canadians as part of any future census. It is also our view that Statistics Canada has not taken any steps to understand the gay and lesbian community in order to formulate any questions, test questions or to gather any information that would allow them to understand and extrapolate the data already informally gathered by Statistics Canada.

 

Statistics Canada took a position that they tested questions and the results were “inconclusive”. But they shared with us no analysis, either written or verbal, to substantiate this “inconclusivity”. What were their standards? Drawing on what authority? Who was empowered to draw the conclusion and why? No offer was made to explain the  reasoning to us; indeed, Statistics Canada has failed to provide any definition of  “conclusive.”

 

 

While Statistics Canada asked us to put our submissions to them in writing, nothing in writing was offered to us. It seems entirely reasonable that they would have written background reasons for their dismissal, that they could share with us and submit to our scrutiny and analysis. The principles of openness and accountability are clearly enough spelled out for the public service.

 

It is our view that Statistics Canada, in its failure to offer reasoning or analysis for its decisions shores up dangerous stereotyping of our communities, as for example in their citing the “focus groups” that “felt strongly that questions should not be asked about this topic”. A focus group made up chiefly  of religious fundamentalists would undoubtedly “feel strongly” in this way. Some decades ago, similar resistance would have been made to other controversial questions, or to the recognition of common-law heterosexual relationships.

 

It is our view that the gay and lesbian community is an important and significant segment of Canadian society that needs to be counted in the population census for the purposes of, inter alia:

 

  • · Re-drafting existing legislation (family, immigration, etc.);
  • · Health care needs and projections;
  • · Recognition as significant minority group by the majority population;
  • · Consumer reports; and
  • · Other census information needs.

 

In response to Statistics Canada’s claims, as summarized by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in its March 1999 letter to Jerome Ryckborst and barbara findlay of December 9 Coalition, and using the same numbering system:

 

  1. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide documentation of their rigorous  consultation, testing and review process as it pertains to questions that measure gays and lesbians appearing on the 1996 Census. It is our view that Statistics Canada is attempting to side-step the issue of their own systemic discrimination by laying the responsibility for not gathering gays and lesbians community data at the door of the major data users known to Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada contradictorily asserts that they are unable to count members of the gay and lesbian community, while, at the same time claiming to have performed “rigorous consultation” in developing questions that count gays and lesbians.

 

  1. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide documentation on their focus group process, including what their focus groups determined to be suitable Census data to collect. If Census is particularly appropriate for determining the characteristics of small groups of people, why is it that data about same-sex couples or sexual orientation is not deemed important enough to be collected? What are Statistics Canada’s criteria for inclusion? How many data requests must be made by how many different data-using groups before the data is deemed to be important enough to collect?

 

 

  1. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide a list of all gay and lesbian organizations consulted, including how they located the gay and lesbian groups, how inclusive their contacts were of the bisexual, transgendered and non-white gay and lesbian communities, the dates these consultations occurred, and who represented Statistics Canada during the focus groups.

 

December 9 Coalition also requests to be provided with information about the “other focus groups” that “felt strongly that questions should not be asked about this topic,” including a list of all test questions tested in the focus group, a breakdown of the focus group for heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual attendees, and what tested questions, if any, from these focus groups appeared on the 1996 Census. Many other unpopular questions are asked on the Census (such as questions regarding income or race); why is the unpopularity with certain focus groups of questions counting gays and lesbians used to justify a halt to development of questions that count gays and lesbians?

 

December 9 Coalition also requests redress of the fact that, in the consultation report for the 1996 Census, December 9 Coalition was the only lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered group listed, yet the opinions attributed to the community were definitely not the opinions presented by December 9 Coalition.

 

  1. It is our view that the 1993 (THIS DATE WAS FROM YOUR ORIGNAL DRAFT TO ME)  National Census Test, in which Statistics Canada allowed same-sex couples to “write in” their relationship status, was an attempt by Statistics Canada to prevent the collection of any meaningful data to on gay and lesbian couples in 1993 and in the future. Statistics Canada failed to provide any guidance on how to complete the “write in” either in the instructions on the National Census Test form, or by advertising and promoting that same-sex couples could “write in”. Furthermore, Statistics Canada’s subsequent assertion that the data would not be collated, made it pointless for any same-sex couples who did  “write in” their relationship to have done so, as Statistics Canada made it clear that the data would not be used, or published with any other family data, in any event..

 

It is our view that Statistics Canada’s argument that data cannot be collated and reported because there is no baseline (existing data) against which to compare the Census results for accuracy is a circular argument. Unless Statistics Canada starts counting, there will never be a base line. In our view, professional statisticians know, or ought to know, that it may take several successive Census counts to set such a base line, and that there are precedents for counting populations without a reliable baseline — for example, the homeless population. On a broader scale, if Statistics Canada’s position of requiring a baseline to compare newly collected  data against is to be taken at all seriously, then Statistics Canada has argued itself out of existence as there surely was no baseline to compare the first ever census data collections against.

 

In addition, it is our view that Statistics Canada’s assertion that same-sex couple data collected in this survey would be too unreliable to collate and distribute to users is specious, since they need only add the standard survey disclaimer — Margin of Error. Furthermore, we assert that Statistics Canada, in choosing not to provide instructions for  “writing in” same-gender relationships, prevented many respondents from replying who might otherwise have done so. We further assert that Statistics Canada’s resistance to including an explicit question on same‑gender couples, after having received information requests to do so, is further evidence of the systemic oppression and barriers that gays and lesbians face.

 

In our view, the sample questions provided to Statistics Canada by December 9 Coalition in 1996 for measuring individuals who identify as gay/lesbian/bisexual, combined with both the professional expertise in the design of research questions available in Canada, and offers from December 9 Coalition to consult with Statistics Canada on the development of a suitable question, are sufficient for Statistics Canada to have developed and tested a 2001 Census question that measures bisexual, lesbian, and gay individuals. Statistics Canada advised December 9 Coalition in 1998 — in advance of the Census Test for the 2001 Census —  that such a question would not be tested. Instead, Statistics Canada tested a question only for the subset of gay or lesbian couples (who identified themselves as Person 1 and Person 2 in the same household) on the Census form. It is our view, therefore, that Statistics Canada is continuing a policy of stonewalling on this issue.

 

  1. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada explain how it was unable to formulate questions about the gay and lesbian community in 1993 in preparation for the 1996 Census, and yet was able to formulate one test question (measuring only couples,  not individuals)  for the 1998 National Census Test in preparation for the 2001 Census. Since Statistics Canada claims that focus groups disagreed on the wording of questions to measure lesbian or gay couples, and that this prevented the development of gay and lesbian oriented question, what has changed to allow Statistics Canada to suddenly develop and test such a (couples only) question for the 1998 National Census Test? What is the wording of this question? How does it differ from the couples question presented to focus groups in 1993? Was this question explicitly about gay and/or lesbian couples, or was it yet another “write in” question with insufficient instructions to be understood and correctly completed? December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide a list of gay and lesbian focus groups consulted for the development of this question.

 

In our opinion, in 1993 there were sufficient professional statisticians and researchers available to help Statistics Canada develop suitable Census questions to measure gay and lesbian individuals; from which same-gender couple data can be extrapolated. Since the Census is a regular event, and given Statistics Canada’s apparent difficulty with focus-group testing of questions that measure gays and lesbians, why did Statistics Canada not allow sufficient time to develop such questions for the National Census Test in 1998?

 

In our opinion, by hiding the gay or lesbian couples question in the question on relationships, Statistics Canada avoids asking about the sexual identity of each person identified on a Census form.

 

All of which is respectfully submitted;

 

 

December 9 Coalition

 

 

Per:

Jerome Ryckborst

Nina Tryggvason

Steve Bridger

 

 

May 31, 1999

 

Re:    December 9 Coalition

– and –

Statistics Canada

          Group complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act

This response addresses the five points made by Statistics Canada and forwarded to December 9 Coalition by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in its letter of March, 1999. As requested, our response uses the same numbering system; this response also includes an introduction that provides context to, and which is part of, December 9 Coalition’s response.

In our view, Statistics Canada is clouding the issue of their systemic barriers for the gay and lesbian community by blaming the gay and lesbian community itself for not being counted by Statistics Canada in its national Census.

Statistics Canada has failed to fulfill agreements made with community representatives with respect to advertising for the 1996 Census in Vancouver-area gay and lesbian community newspapers. This advertising was intended to explain to gay and lesbian couples how to complete the national Census forms to indicate their family status.

Statistics Canada has admitted that they do not have a sufficient understanding of the gay and lesbian community to begin to analyze—or even to correctly collate—the data already collected. Indeed, in a telephone conference from the office of federal MP Dr Hedy Fry, on Tuesday April 1st, 1997, with Doug Norris (head of Statistics Canada’s family-statistics division), Doug Norris advised December 9 Coalition members Jerome Ryckborst, Nina Tryggvason, Ann Marie McInnis and Bill Weston, that during Statistics Canada’s processing of data from the 1991 Census, when respondents self-identified as a same-gender couple and also identified children in the household, Statistics Canada changed the responses from “Other: same-sex partner,” which respondents would have had to write in by hand, to “roommates,” which was one of the pre‑printed choices on the Census form. The explanation for these changes: gays or lesbian couples are assumed not to have children, therefore the write‑in responses must have been incorrect. This process is called “editing” by Statistics Canada. At the risk of stating the obvious, assumptions of this kind are offensive to our communities. But beyond that, such assumptions are themselves examples of the kinds of false stereotyping that we wish to correct with the kind of data that the inclusion of our communities in the national Census would provide.

[In addition, it is also offensive that Statistics Canada told gay and lesbian communities in Canada to use the write‑in option for the 1991 national Census, then did not collate (add up) those responses.]

It is our view that Statistics Canada is resistant to including gay and lesbian people as part of any future national Census. It is also our view that Statistics Canada has not taken any steps to understand the gay and lesbian community in order to formulate any questions, test questions or to gather any information that would allow them to understand and extrapolate the data already informally gathered by Statistics Canada.

[Yet we do agree with the published view of Statistics Canada that the national Census is the best tool to provide information about small populations. Statistics Canada has used the very aged as an example of such a small population.]

Statistics Canada took a position that they tested questions and the results were “inconclusive.” But they shared with us no analysis, either written or verbal, to substantiate this finding. What were their standards? Which or whose established statistical procedures and expertise were used? Who was empowered to draw the conclusion and why? In spite of our requests, no offer was made to explain the reasoning to us; indeed, Statistics Canada has failed to provide any definition of  “conclusive.”

While Statistics Canada asked us to put our submissions to them in writing, nothing in writing was offered to us. It seems entirely reasonable that they would have written background reasons for their dismissal, that they could share with us and submit to our scrutiny and analysis. The principles of openness and accountability are clearly enough spelled out for the public service.

[We note one exception to this lack of written communication: December 9 Coalition was advised by e-mail that Statistics Canada would not be testing a particular question in the last National Census test. (This question would have allowed all gays and lesbians, not just couples, to identify themselves on the 2001 national Census).]

It is our view that Statistics Canada, in its failure to offer reasoning or analysis for its decisions shores up dangerous stereotyping of our communities, as for example in their citing the “focus groups” that “felt strongly that questions should not be asked about this topic.” A focus group made up chiefly of religious fundamentalists might undoubtedly “feel strongly” in this way. Some decades ago, similar resistance would have been made to other controversial questions, or to the recognition of common-law heterosexual relationships.

It is our view that the gay and lesbian community is an important and significant segment of Canadian society that needs to be counted in the population census for the purposes of, inter alia:

  • Re-drafting existing legislation (family, immigration, pension, etc.);
  • Health care needs and projections;
  • Recognition as significant minority group by the majority population and governments;
  • Consumer reports; and
  • Other census information needs.

In response to Statistics Canada’s claims, as summarized by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in its March 1999 letter to Jerome Ryckborst and barbara findlay of December 9 Coalition, and using the same numbering system:

  1. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide documentation of their rigorous consultation, testing and review process as it pertains to questions that measure gays and lesbians appearing on the 1996 Census. It is our view that Statistics Canada is attempting to side‑step the issue of their own systemic discrimination by laying the responsibility for not gathering gays and lesbians community data at the door of the major data users known to Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada contradictorily asserts that they are unable to count members of the gay and lesbian community, while, at the same time claiming to have performed “rigorous consultation” in developing questions that count gays and lesbians.
  2. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide documentation on their focus group process, including what their focus groups determined to be suitable Census data to collect. If the Census is particularly appropriate for determining the characteristics of small groups of people (this is StatsCan’s published opinion), then why is it that data about same-gender couples or sexual orientation is not deemed important enough to be collected? What are Statistics Canada’s criteria for inclusion? How many data requests must be made by how many different data-using groups before the data is deemed to be important enough to collect? Why are gays and lesbians the only group named in the Canadian Human Rights Act about whom data is not collected?
  3. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide a list of all gay and lesbian organizations consulted, including how they located those gay and lesbian groups, how inclusive their contacts were of the bisexual, transgendered and non-white gay and lesbian communities, the dates these consultations occurred, and who represented Statistics Canada during the focus groups.

December 9 Coalition also requests to be provided with information about the “other focus groups” that “felt strongly that questions should not be asked about this topic,” including a list of all test questions tested in the focus group, a breakdown of the focus group for heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual attendees, and what tested questions, if any, from these focus groups appeared on the 1996 Census. Many other unpopular questions are asked on the Census (such as questions regarding income or race); why is the unpopularity with certain focus groups of questions counting gays and lesbians used to justify a halt to development of questions that count gays and lesbians, when it is not sufficient to halt other questions that may be deemed offensive (but equally necessary)?

December 9 Coalition also requests redress of the fact that, in the consultation report for the 1996 Census, December 9 Coalition was the only lesbian/gay/bisexual group listed, yet the opinions attributed to the community were definitely not the opinions presented by December 9 Coalition.

[Following that consultation, but before the 1996 Census, December 9 Coalition members also began working on equality issues for transgendered people; December 9 Coalition’s interests now embrace lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and gay issues.]

  1. It is our view that the 1993 National Census Test, in which Statistics Canada allowed same-gender couples to “write in” their relationship status, was an attempt by Statistics Canada to frustrate the collection of any meaningful data on gay and lesbian couples on the 1996 national Census (as with the 1991 national Census), and in the future. Statistics Canada failed to provide any guidance on how to complete the “write in” either in the instructions on the National Census Test form, or by advertising and promoting that same-gender couples could “write in.” Instead, it would have to occur to respondents to ask a Census worker for such instructions (and there is no evidence that Census workers across Canada were trained to answer such a request). Furthermore, the subsequent assertion by management at Statistics Canada (Doug Norris) that the data would neither be collated, nor be published with other family data, made it pointless for any same-gender couples who did  “write in” their relationship to have done so.

It is our view that Statistics Canada’s argument that data cannot be collated and reported because there is no baseline (existing data) against which to compare the Census results for accuracy is a circular argument. Unless Statistics Canada starts counting, there will never be a baseline. In our view, professional statisticians know, or ought to know, that it may take several successive Census counts to set such a baseline, and that there are precedents for counting populations without a reliable baseline—for example, the homeless population (first counted in 1991). There are other such examples.

In addition, it is our view that Statistics Canada’s assertion that same‑gender couple data collected in this survey would be too unreliable to collate and distribute to users is specious, since they need only add the standard survey disclaimer—Margin Of Error. Furthermore, we assert that Statistics Canada, in choosing not to provide instructions for  “writing in” same-gender relationships, prevented many respondents from replying who might otherwise have done so. Additionally, in failing to train front-line Census workers across Canada to correctly respond to questions about identifying same‑gender relationships, StatsCan prevented still more respondents from replying who might otherwise have done so. We further assert that Statistics Canada’s resistance to including an explicit question on same-gender couples, after having received information requests to do so, is further evidence of the systemic oppression and barriers that gays and lesbians face.

In our view, the sample questions provided to Statistics Canada by December 9 Coalition in 1996 for measuring individuals who identify as gay/lesbian/bisexual, combined with both the professional expertise in the design of research questions available in Canada, and offers from December 9 Coalition to consult with Statistics Canada on the development of a suitable question, are sufficient for Statistics Canada to have developed and tested a 2001 Census question that measures bisexual, lesbian, and gay individuals. Statistics Canada advised December 9 Coalition in 1998—in advance of the Census Test for the 2001 national Census—that such a question would not be tested. Instead, Statistics Canada tested a question only for the subset of gay or lesbian couples (who identified themselves as Person 1 and Person 2 in the same household) on the national Census form. It is our view, therefore, that Statistics Canada is continuing a policy of stonewalling on this issue.

  1. December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada explain how it was unable to formulate questions about the gay and lesbian community in 1993 in preparation for the 1996 Census, and yet was able to formulate one test question (measuring only couples, not individuals) for the 1998 National Census Test in preparation for the 2001 Census. Since Statistics Canada claims that focus groups disagreed on the wording of questions to measure lesbian or gay couples, and that this prevented the development of gay and lesbian oriented question, what has changed to allow Statistics Canada to suddenly develop and test such a (couples only) question for the 1998 National Census Test? Where was the expertise developed? What is the wording of this question? How does it differ from the couples question presented to focus groups in 1993? Was this question explicitly about gay and/or lesbian couples, or was it yet another “write in” question with insufficient instructions to be understood and correctly completed? December 9 Coalition requests that Statistics Canada provide a list of gay and lesbian focus groups consulted for the development of this question.

In our opinion, in 1993 there were sufficient professional statisticians and researchers available to help Statistics Canada develop suitable Census questions to measure gay and lesbian individuals; from which same-gender couple data can be extrapolated. Since the Census is a regular event, and given Statistics Canada’s apparent difficulty with focus-group testing of questions that measure gays and lesbians, why did Statistics Canada not allow sufficient time to develop such questions for the National Census Test in 1998?

Furthermore, in our view, Statistics Canada’ decision refusal in advance of the last National Census Test (and communicated to us in writing) to develop, test, and include a question that would have counted individual gays, lesbians and bisexuals on the 2001 Census is clearly discriminatory. In the past, StatsCan has made it clear they wish to avoid explicit language that mentions gays and lesbians (using such words as gay, lesbian, homosexual, queer, etc.) on the national Census form for fear of offending respondents and thereby reducing the response rate. This is, in our view, and unacceptable capitulation, and as such, is discriminatory.

In our view, measuring only same-gender couples is a half-hearted, “please-keep-it-in-the-closet” attempt on the part of Statistics Canada to appease their gay and lesbian critics, while still managing to shirk their responsibility in an attempt to appease the “homosexuals-don’t count” right wing in Canada. In our view, there is no reason to count only couples, and thus exclude single individuals who identify as gay or lesbian. Statistics Canada should not be permitted to avoid this important issue.

Over and above its documented decision against even testing a question to measure individuals for the 2001 Census, is the issue of wording and test results of its couples question. (The most important issue here is this: Does this question explicitly mention gays and lesbians on the census form? If not, it is discriminatory, for reasons outlined earlier in this document.) The question has been tested. December 9 Coalition requests

In our opinion, by hiding the gay or lesbian couples question in the question on relationships, Statistics Canada avoids asking about the sexual identity of each person identified on a Census form.

As part of the remedy to this discrimination, December 9 Coalition suggests that the Canadian Human Rights Commission consider instructing Statistics Canada not to prosecute gays and lesbians who choose to boycott a national Census as long as such a national Census is not explicitly and obviously able to measure all gays and lesbians who wish to be counted, and to ensure that Statistics Canada advertises such an instruction.

All of which is respectfully submitted;

 

December 9 Coalition

 

Per:

Jerome Ryckborst

Nina Tryggvason

Steve Bridger

barbara findlay

 

 

 

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18 Responses to Canada Census and Queers

  1. dykewriter says:

    I remember that moment when Stats Can said we didn’t have kids

    I broke the stunned silence by advising that of the queers on our side of the table, half were parents.

    Like

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