Senior census resister heads to trial over refusal to fill out 2011 census

TORONTO – A 79-year-old Toronto woman is set to go on trial Friday over her refusal to fill out the mandatory census in 2011.

Janet Churnin has been charged with violating the Statistics Act.

A key element behind her actions was knowing that the government used software from U.S. arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin to conduct the census, said Churnin’s lawyer.

Peter Rosenthal said his client also wanted to protest the government’s scrapping of the long-form census — which it replaced with a voluntary national household survey.

“We’re going to argue that her Charter rights were violated in several respects by being required to answer (the short-form census),” Rosenthal told The Canadian Press.

Statistics Canada has said it purchased Lockheed’s software back in 2003 and has used it for both the 2006 and 2011 census. But Rosenthal said Churnin may not have known about the software being used by the data collection agency until 2011.

Finding out about the U.S. company’s involvement played a big role in her decision not to fill out the short-form census, he said.

“It associates her with the arms manufacturer and she as a supporter of peace finds that repulsive,” said Rosenthal.

“Secondly, there’s a good chance that Lockheed Martin could use the fact that it designs the software in order to get the data from the census into U.S. intelligence hands.”

Rosenthal pointed to recent leaked information by former U.S. intelligence employee Edward Snowden as justification for Churnin’s fears. Snowden released thousands of documents showing massive trawling of domestic data by the National Security Agency.

Churin’s case is similar to that of an 89-year-old peace activist who also refused to fill out the 2011 census. In that case, Audrey Tobias was found not guilty in October by Toronto judge who soundly criticized the government for trying to prosecute someone who was a “model citizen.”

What makes Churnin’s case different from Tobias’s — according to Rosenthal — is the argument that will be made about security fears regarding Lockheed.

“What I’m most hopeful about is that the court will recognize that having Lockheed Martin do the software means that Statistics Canada was negligent in maintaining the information that they get,” he said.

“We’re going to argue that collecting census data and allowing Lockheed Martin such easy access to it, is an unreasonable seizure of information. It’s a very novel kind of argument.”

In 2011, StatsCan received 13 million completed census forms, a 98 per cent response rate. Overall, it referred 54 people for prosecution for failing to complete the mandatory census form.

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