Stat­sCan blames com­puter for mis­take in cen­sus lan­guage data

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOR­DAN PRESS

OT­TAWA — Statis­tics Canada has to cor­rect the cen­sus re­sults from thou­sands of Cana­di­ans af­ter find­ing an er­ror in its sys­tem that re­ported un­usu­ally high in­creases in the num­ber of English speak­ers in some smaller Que­bec com­mu­ni­ties.

In­stead, it ap­pears that about 61,000 of those re­port­ing English as a mother tongue were ac­tu­ally French speak­ers, but their an­swers were flipped by a com­puter er­ror.

In Que­bec, the jump in English­language speak­ers caused emo­tional rip­ples, with pro­vin­cial politi­cians talk­ing about leg­isla­tive means to en­sure the sur­vival of the French lan­guage in the prov­ince.

The an­nounce­ment Fri­day was an em­bar­rass­ing ad­mis­sion from the renowned agency af­ter it faced in­creas­ing pres­sure this week to dou­ble-check all of its data.

“We have an im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure the ac­cu­racy of these fig­ures and we also want to be sure that we have a thought­ful and well-in­formed dis­cus­sion, par­tic­u­larly here in Que­bec where the is­sue is a bit emo­tional,” said Jack Jed­wab, ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion for Cana­dian Stud­ies, who first flagged the is­sue.

“We want to make sure we’re op­er­at­ing from as­sump­tions that are based on cor­rect fig­ures and clearly there was some­thing very amiss about this.”

The cen­sus data on lan­guage re­leased last week in­di­cated roughly one-half of the 57,325 in­crease in the num­ber of an­glo­phones in the prov­ince over five years came from out­side of Montreal.

Jed­wab quickly be­gan to ques­tion the in­creased num­ber of English speak­ers in small com­mu­ni­ties in Que­bec far from ma­jor ur­ban cen­tres such as Montreal, where English is of­ten spo­ken.

Drilling down into the num­bers, Jed­wab said he found English as a mother tongue was dou­bling or tripling over a five-year pe­riod in pre­dom­i­nantly Fran­co­phone com­mu­ni­ties like Trois-Rivières, Rivièredu-Loup and Dol­beau-Mis­tassini.

Statis­tics Canada did a sweep­ing review and blamed a now-fixed com­puter pro­gram­ming er­ror as the cul­prit. The agency is crunch­ing all the cen­sus data again and ex­pects to have re­vised lin­guis­tic data avail­able next week.

“We were re­port­ing that the pro­por­tion of peo­ple re­port­ing speak­ing English only was slightly up in Que­bec, French pro­por­tion­ately was slightly down across the coun­try in­clud­ing in Que­bec. Those sto­ries will most likely re­main the same, but the mag­ni­tude of those changes since 2011 will change slightly,” said Marc Hamel, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the cen­sus pro­gram.

Hamel said cen­sus of­fi­cials have also done a check of all other data re­leased to date from last year’s cen­sus and haven’t found any other is­sues. Of­fi­cials are also dou­blecheck­ing data anal­y­sis pro­cesses for up­com­ing cen­sus re­leases to make sure the find­ings are sound.

“We stand be­hind ev­ery­thing else that we have re­leased up to this point and we will en­sure that we have very good in­for­ma­tion on Cana­di­ans on fu­ture re­leases,” Hamel said. “This one is un­for­tu­nate, but we take data qual­ity very se­ri­ously, that’s why we are pro­ceed­ing the way we are to­day.”


Parti Québé­cois Leader Jean-François Lisée pro­posed a new lan­guage law in re­ac­tion to the cen­sus find­ings, which showed a dra­matic in­crease in English speak­ers across the prov­ince.

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