Procrastinating on the 2016 census? Here’s what might happen

What you need to know about the long-form census
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If your census questionnaire is still sitting on your kitchen table waiting to be filled out, you have until late Tuesday night to get it done — or the government will start calling.

Tuesday is the official census day across Canada, even though households have been able to fill out the online questionnaire (or request the paper version) since May 2.

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Statistics Canada designates a specific census date so that Canadians who move or marry around the time of the census, for example, can fill out their information based on their situation on May 10 and not any other date. The census is meant to act as a ‘snapshot’ of Canada on that day.

As of Monday, Statistics Canada was reporting that over five million census questionnaires (each questionnaire can cover multiple residents of the same household) had already been received, with a majority of them filed online.

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Starting Wednesday morning, Statistics Canada will start paying more attention to the folks who haven’t submitted their questionnaire. Gradually, they will start receiving reminders to get it done — because like it says on the envelope, “it’s the law.”

The first gentle nudge may be a written notice that lands in the mailbox, then someone from Statistics Canada might call the tardy household to ask if they need help filling it out.

Eventually, the household may receive a knock on the door. Statistics Canada has thousands of census enumerators who are charged with getting everyone counted by mid-summer.

After that, things get less gentle.

The number of Canadians who outright refuse to fill out their forms is normally very low. But the few who do refuse face a fine of up to $500, or up to three months in jail.

These cases can make headlines, depending on the circumstances. During the 2011 census, for instance, 89-year-old Ontario resident Audrey Tobias said she would not fill out the questionnaire because an information technology contract linked to it had been awarded to an American company, Lockheed Martin. Tobias was charged with violating the Statistics Act, but eventually acquitted.

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Overall in 2011, Statistics Canada referred 54 people for prosecution for failure to comply with the requirement to complete the census.

Census suspended in Fort McMurray

If you happen to be a resident of Fort McMurray, your grace period for filling out the census is significantly longer. Late last week, Statistics Canada announced that is was “suspending census collection activities indefinitely” in the Fort McMurray area to accommodate residents who have been displaced by forest fires.

“Processes to include the population of the Fort McMurray area in the Census will be determined at a later date,” according to a notice sent out on May 5.

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No more glitches

The census got off to a rocky start on May 2 when Canadians, apparently impatient to carry out their civic duty, took to the census website in droves to fill out the questionnaire, crashing the site for 45 minutes. There have been no further reports of outages since then.

Statistics Canada tried putting a positive spin on things, thanking respondents for their “enthusiasm” and encouraging them to try again if they hadn’t managed to log on the first time.