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The Other Option: Outright Refusal

In the 2006, 2011, and 2016 Census, this website did not advocate outright refusal to complete the census, which would contravene the Statistics Act. We promoted (and still advocate), instead of outright refusal, the strategy of minimum cooperation

We were amazed, however, by the number of messages we received from Canadians who said: To heck with minimum cooperation, we refuse outright to complete the census.

They were not alone.

Wayne Smith, The Chief Statistician, stated in a 2011 Globe and Mail interview: "we had 94-per-cent response rate in 2006. That means 6 per cent of the population didn’t respond. That’s 2 million people."

Interestingly, only 65 prosecutions were launched for alleged refusal to complete that census. To our knowledge, no one has ever gone to jail. The maximum fine is $500, although actual penalties that we know about have ranged from absolute discharge, to a $300 fine.

We can only speculate. Those few who were prosecuted seem to have made very public statements in the media, or told Statistics Canada or census workers directly, in writing or verbally, that they did not or would not file a census return. Not "might not", but "would not". This made the task of prosecution easy, since those persons provided the needed evidence against themselves. In a legal sense, they self-incriminated. Without such self-incrimination, it is probably difficult for StatsCan to take an individual to court and get a conviction, because the census is mailed unregistered to a household address, and not addressed to a specific named individual. Our understanding is that addresses cannot be prosecuted, only named individuals.

Given that over 2 million Canadians did not answer the 2006 census and that only 65 prosecutions were launched, it seems that the probability of prosecution is extremely low, unless one clearly self-incriminates in a flagrant manner.

So again, each Canadian must decide whether or not to complete the Census. We are certainly not advocating outright refusal. But based on past experience, hundreds of thousands of Canadians will likely refuse. And those who decide not to refuse can opt instead for the minimum cooperation techniques that this website advocates.

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