Saturday, July 31, 2010

Catholic bishops say keep long census

Another group has weighed in on the long-form census debate.   This time, it's the Catholic Bishops.   Maybe not exactly the most popular group right now as some in the grouping are accused of continuing obstructing justice in the never-ending sex abuse cases.   But setting that aside, the bishops say the data is needed to help them plot out where new parishes need to be built and which ones ought to be closed or merged ... as well as helping faith-based social service agencies plan out strategies to deliver services.

One of the justifications used to not have a long form census is that it allows people to put in joke answers -- over 21,000 Canadians in 2001 said they were "Jedi".    Alternately, since there is a near complete separation of church and state it's not appropriate to ask about one's religion, and in many countries -- the US and some EU member states, for instance -- it's actually illegal to ask.

I disagree on the "inappropriateness" point.   Yes, there is room for mischief.   But having information about religion patterns across the regions is important.    In 2001, for instance, 42.6% of Canadians self-identified as Roman Catholic.  23.3% said they were Protestant, 4.4.% Eastern Orthodox and 1.9% Muslim.   "Others" made up 11.8% while 16% said they have no religion whatsoever.   (Source:   CIA).

How can this be applied practically?

The fact is, whether we like it or not, certain patterns of violence do tend to spike in certain ethnic or religious communities.    "Honour killings" -- if we can call them that, for there is no honour in murder -- do happen across all communities but they do concentrate in those from the Middle East or South Asia.   Sexual assaults also happen all over, but patterns emerge that they can be often more frequent in some minority communities as well as less affluent areas in "white majority" areas.   If we can identify problem areas then we can fight crime before it begins -- in a sense, prevent a broken window from even being broken.

Another example.

Not that long ago, the local daily newspaper here, the Hamilton Spectator, did an extensive series that tied health outcomes to incomes as well as ethnic and religious background  -- and that one neighbourhood could be wildly different from the next.    This was by no means racial profiling.   It was meant to demonstrate that there is a link and that equal rights can only be achieved by equal opportunities as well as truly equal access to health care.   The newspaper relied on census tract information and cross-referenced that to health information obtained through Freedom of Information (with personal information stripped, of course).    The paper has made it clear such a series could not be done without the mandatory long form information.

The government claimed they received "thousands" of e-mails objecting to the intrusiveness of the census, but this past week the Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart -- an agent of Parliament and therefore independent -- says she only received three formal objections related to the census in the last five years, and merely 50 in the last 20 years.   Who are these "thousands"?    People watching the religious channels who just click a form letter on a website and send a mass and duplicating e-mail (the same tactic the Parents Television Council uses in the States to bombard the FCC with "indecency" complaints)?

As for the claims made by the government new Canadians are fearful of being deported if they don't fill in the census, this is something that comes up every cycle.

And the solution remains the same -- go to the ethnic communities, the churches, the multilingual media and put in ads assuring people that their information remains private.   That this census is not an enumeration as in other countries (which here is updated by tax returns and "motor voter" laws).    That this does not relate to taxes, pensions, or any other entitlements.   That the information helps them in the long run, is a duty of citizenship and actually helps protect our freedoms.   That while, yes, it is mandatory, it's only a few minutes to a couple hours of time and that for the next five years they don't have to worry about it.

Social service agencies get it.   The police get it.   Members of the First Estate -- the clergy, from many denominations -- get it.    So why won't those at the top of the Second Estate -- the elected officials?

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