Like many other Canadians, I was forced to fill out the long form census earlier this year, which entailed disclosing to the government details like whether my home is in need of repair and even mental illness history.
Statistics Canada has long maintained that the information is integral to public policy, and that personal privacy is always respected with the results. Months ago, the Rebel filed an Access to Information request with the government to find out how many civil servants have access to individual census responses. The response said only that access was on a “need to know basis” and that employees must take an Oath or Affirmation of Office and Secrecy.
The department also told us that there are four employees in the pension search division who have access to the “non-anonymized” data, as well as 150 database maintenance workers who may or may not be able to see individual responses.
They didn’t want to answer the question.
This week however, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains signed off on the response to a request from Conservative MP Karen Vecchio, who asked the government for the number of employees who are able to view individual census data—and their job titles.
The response, tabled earlier this week in the House of Commons, said that 90 employees can see individual census responses, reiterating the “need-to-know basis” for accessing data. Some of the positions were obvious: statistical clerks, database administrator, census data dissemination consultant.
Some were more precarious, however: four co-op students have access to the data, as well as a “warehouse person” and a “shipping & receiving coordinator.”
It stands to reason that paper responses would need to be stored somewhere, but it’s pretty easy to store boxes without looking at their contents. Especially when the department has established that a “need to know” is paramount before authorization to read what you and I were forced to tell the government is handed out.