Sask. woman guilty of census refusal

A Saskatoon woman who refused to fill out a long-form census has been found guilty of violating Canada's census law.
Sandra Finley, seen here in a file photo from 2007, said she's also concerned that Statistics Canada used the services of a U.S. military contractor, Lockheed Martin Canada. ((CBC))
A Saskatoon woman who refused to fill out a long-form census has been found guilty of violating Canada's census law.

A provincial court judge ruled Thursday that community activist Sandra Finley's privacy rights were not violated by the requirement to fill out the long form in 2006.

It's the same form, containing detailed questions about households that the Conservative federal government now says should not be mandatory.

Finley was charged before the government made that decision.

During her trial, Finley argued the law violated her charter right to personal privacy.

"Some of the questions are like, what is the name of your employer?" she said outside court Thursday. "That's not their business. There's questions ... that have to do with sexual orientation. There's a lot of questions regarding your ethnic background."

Finley also objected to Statistics Canada buying software from U.S. defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin, saying it was "part of the American military industrial complex and that is in the business of making war and illegal war."

Kept confidential

The prosecution argued that census information is kept confidential and that the information is needed to plan services.

Judge Sheila Whelan focused on whether the requirement to fill out the census breaches the section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. She concluded it didn't.

"The evidence before this court was strongly supportive of the conclusion that an appropriate balance has been struck between the societal interest of the individual's dignity, integrity and autonomy and the goal of effective information gathering for statistical purposes," Whelan wrote in a 38-page decision. "I concluded there has not been a breach of Section 8 of the Charter."

Whelan noted that while the court case was going on, Industry Minister Tony Clement said the government "does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution" — but that didn't dissuade her.

The webpage of Statistics Canada. During her trial, Sandra Finley argued that the mandatory long-form census questions violated her charter right to personal privacy. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Finley said she was stunned by the decision.

"Especially when the census long form is no longer mandatory," she said. "Given the actual law as I understand it, I'm just stunned that I'm found guilty. I don't know what the sentence is going to be yet."

Finley is to be sentenced Jan. 20. The maximum sentence for violating the Statistics Act could be three months in jail with a $500 fine.

Finley said she has spent about $10,000 fighting the case, but her fight may not be over yet. She and her lawyer plan to study the written decision before making a decision about what to do next.