Stat­sCan wants le­gal power to get data

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOR­DAN PRESS

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.

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