Members of 12.7 million Canadian households will be filling out census forms on Tuesday, May 16, 2006. For the first time, Canadian census forms may be filled out on the Internet, at http://www.census2006.ca. However, Statistics Canada will also accept forms filled out the old-fashioned way: on paper.
One issue that is upsetting to genealogists is the option to keep one's information private forever. Canadian census data usually is locked up for 92 years. This means that data from this year's census should be made public in the year 2098.
New legislation now gives Canadians the right to forever lock up personal information from the 2006 census. Should you check that box, your great-grandchildren will not be able to find out the members of your household, the ages of you or the other members of the household, who you are living with, what sex your partner is, whether you are married, how much money you earn, or any other personal information. In short, the genealogists of the future may not have access to the sort of information that we take for granted today. It is feared that many Canadians will check that option box, not understanding the impact to genealogists, historians, and statisticians.
The option to fill out census forms on the Internet has one interesting side effect: it will put about 20,000 of the usual 45,000 door-knocking enumerators out of work. In this case, Statistics Canada sees that as a benefit since the agency always had trouble recruiting enough enumerators for the short-term, low-paid jobs. Taxpayer-paid expenses will also be lower this year because of the lower labor requirement.
It's a legal responsibility to fill in the form, and Statistics Canada does prosecute. About fifty such cases were prosecuted after the 2001 census.
Canada's first census was in 1666 and counted 3,215 people (excluding aboriginals and royal troops) in New France. Imagine how many descendants of Canada's early settlers would have been deprived if those early censuses had been locked away forever!