TORONTO – A defiant, diminutive 89-year-old woman pleaded not guilty Thursday to criminal charges arising out of her refusal to fill out the 2011 census, and said she would not pay any fine if convicted.
Audrey Tobias told Ontario court she agreed with the aims of the census, but objected to the involvement of American arms behemoth, Lockheed Martin.
“When I learned that the contract for the information technology was being given to a foreign company, I was shocked,” Tobias testified.
“I am ashamed of my prime minister in Canada who ultimately made the decision. Because of that, I couldn’t fill it in.”
Tobias, of Toronto, is charged with violating the Statistics Act.
The defence is arguing that forcing her to complete the census would violate her freedoms of conscience and free expression.
Tobias said she was unconcerned about the consequences of a conviction.
“I’m not worried; we’ll take it as it comes,” she said during a break in the proceedings.
“Of course, I would not pay the fine — that would be an admission of guilt.”
She also said she would not do any community service for the same reason.
The Crown called one witness, Yves Beland, operations director at Statistics Canada, who outlined the importance of the census to, among other things, intergovernmental equalization and transfer payments.
“It is the only detailed and coherent source of information,” Beland said.
In 2011, StatsCan received 13 million completed census forms, a 98 per cent response rate. Overall, it referred 54 people for prosecution for failure to comply with the requirement to complete the census.
In the witness stand — her flaming ginger hair barely visible over the court reporter — Tobias explained she was a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service during the Second World War.
She became a committed peace activist after viewing movie footage of the war and the atomic bombing of Japan.
“I recall the great pain of that,” she said, as a court full of supporters watched.
Lockheed developed and supplied data-analyzing software to Statistics Canada for the 2006 census, and helped rework the program for the 2011 count.
“They provided a technical solution to integrate information coming from telephone, paper and Internet,” Beland said.
Lockheed’s role was “descoped” before 2006 after concerns were raised in Canada that it might have to pass on information to the U.S. government under the Patriot Act.
Tobias said she was once barred from entering the U.S.
“Oh, well, yes, anybody who’s anybody might be prohibited from entering the United States,” she said.
Beland, who said he has never heard of Edward Snowden — he recently went public with a massive U.S. surveillance system — was adamant the American company had no access to any data on Canadians.
StatsCan systems, he said, were completely secure, a pronouncement the defence intended to rebut with an expert witness.
Either way, Tobias was unbowed.
The census contract, she said, should have stayed in Canada and not involved the military.
“Giving it to a military company sends a message to the Canadian people from our prime minister and cabinet that he supports military solutions. I didn’t like that,” she said.
“I would like to see us on the path of being a leader in peaceful solutions to international problems.”
At one point, her supporters applauded in the courtroom.
“I run a loose court, but it’s not a movie theatre,” said Judge Ramez Khawley.