StatsCan wants legal power to get data
OTTAWA — Statistics Canada is privately floating the idea of new powers that would make all of its surveys mandatory by default and force certain companies to hand over requested data, such as credit card transactions and Internet search records.
Currently, the agency can ask for any information held by governments and businesses, but officials have long found it hard to get information like point-of-sale transactions that could give a more detailed and accurate picture of household spending.
The agency’s proposal would compel governments and companies to hand over information, and levy fines to discourage “unreasonable impositions” that “restrict or prevent the flow of information for statistical purposes.”
Corporate fines would depend on a company’s size and the length of any delays. The changes would also do away with the threat of jail time for anyone who refuses to fill out a mandatory survey, such as the long-form census.
The recommendations, contained in a discussion paper Statistics Canada provided to The Canadian Press, would enshrine in law the agency’s independence in deciding what data it needs and how to collect it.
New legislation to update the Statistics Act is expected to be tabled this fall, and the Liberals have promised to give Statistics Canada more freedom from government influence.
The current law permits the federal government to make unilateral changes — eliminating studies about the Canadian population, for instance, or making the long-form census a voluntary survey, a Statcan spokesperson said.
Should the federal Liberals agree to the agency’s proposals, it would build a political wall between the government and Statistics Canada and ensure statistical decisions by the chief statistician take priority over political considerations.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, who is responsible for Statistics Canada, said the government is still reviewing the Statistics Act. He said the government is committed to “strengthening the independence of Statistics Canada.”
“For a national statistical office to be credible, there must be a high degree of professional independence,” Bains said in a written statement.
“Canadians need to trust that their data are produced according to strict professional standards, ethics and scientific principles.”
The agency delivered the paper earlier this year to the National Statistics Council, a body of outside experts that acts as an advisory board for the chief statistician.
In the paper, Statistics Canada argues for a new, modern framework.