Census squabble: weak arguments shouldn't have even worse foundations - Macleans.ca

Census squabble: weak arguments shouldn’t have even worse foundations


Lorne Gunter has become almost (though not quite) the lone defender of the government’s otherwise cryptic attack on the random distribution of the census long form. I am not particularly interested in his ethical argument against the long form. There is a case to be made that it is unacceptably intrusive for a government to compile such data, but:

a) neither Gunter nor Tony Clement appear to have a problem with actually filling out the long form—in fact, they say that they will fill it out voluntarily and that others should too;

b) censuses themselves are inherently illibertarian, but not so much so that they haven’t been permanent, constitutionally entrenched features of the United States, Canada, and most other similarly disposed liberal democracies;

c) ethical arguments against the long form are inadmissible when accompanied by myrmidons of statistical illiteracy, as they have been for both Clement and Gunter;

d) Statistics Canada has an unblemished historical record of owlishly strict privacy protection, so any actual Big Brother-type harm done to recipients of the long form is hypothetical; and,

e) isn’t it just the slightest bit embarrassing for a government whose leader has trashed libertarians for their ethical myopia to have minions and media partisans present a libertarian pretext for an action that is not literally among the first 200 policy changes that would be implemented by an intelligent libertarian given plenary power?

So you can count me out of the cheering section. But what really irks me about my friend’s latest column is this bit of tangential recklessness:

…look at the statement last month from StatsCan on the reliability of bilingualism data gathered outside Quebec in the 2006 census.

Even though it was obligatory to complete the long form, StatsCan still believes francophones outside Quebec tailored their answers to skew the totals of French-speakers in the rest of Canada.

To make it appear that there were more French-only speakers than there actually were, francophone organizations allegedly encouraged their members to overstate their reliance on the use of French so federal funding to minority-language programs and schools would continue or grow.

Nobody at all, as far as I’m aware, has made any such allegation against “francophone organizations” outside Quebec. The mass e-mail that encouraged francophones to fib about being unilingual was anonymous, and the identity of its creator is still unknown. At least one francophone organization I checked with about this subject last week positively encouraged members to ignore the e-mail. Statistics Canada never suggested that these organizations had any hand in the propagation of the meme—merely that individuals, as individuals, may have been influenced by it.

Gunter, in attributing to the agency a conspiracist opinion about our semi-official francophone institutions, is flirting with defamation of both. It’s a mistake I’m sure he didn’t intend, and it’s not even relevant to the particular point he is trying to make. But the carelessness does enhance the impression of a fighter flinging muck in all directions because he cannot hope to survive a test of unobscured strength.