Just under 50 people could face fines, charges over census refusal

A copy of Statistics Canada's 2016 Long-Form Census mailer is seen in the mailbox of a residence in Toronto. CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini

Just under 50 Canadian households flat-out refused to fill out the census last year, Statistics Canada confirmed this week, and the people who wouldn’t share their information with the government could now face legal action.

According to the agency, 47 cases have been referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

“The decision to proceed and the ultimate conduct of the case rest exclusively with the Public Prosecution Service,” a spokesperson added.

READ MORE: For the 1st time, census shows more seniors than children living in Canada

This type of case is likely not a top priority for federal prosecutors, as these situations crop up with every federal census. There were 67 cases referred in 2006, for instance, and 54 in 2011.

Global News has reached out to the PPSC to verify if any cases have resulted in charges under the Statistics Act as of this week.

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Filling out the census is required by law, and the envelope sent to every household last spring said as much.

Statistics Canada will typically try multiple times to get you to do it willingly, sending enumerators to your door or calling you repeatedly to remind you that you’re overdue. Canadians had the option of filling out their forms by hand and mailing them in, or filling them out online.

The overall census response rate, according to Statistics Canada, was a staggering 98.4 per cent.

The tiny minority of Canadians who outright refused to fill out their forms, for whatever reason, face a fine of up to $500 or up to three months in jail.

READ MORE: Census shows Canadian cities are turning into condo jungles

These cases can make headlines, depending on the circumstances and how far up they go in Canada’s court system.

In 2006, for instance, 61-year-old Green Party activist Sandra Finley refused to fill out the census and triggered a five-year legal odyssey that eventually saw her walk away with an absolute discharge and no punishment.

Following the 2011 census, 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 (the same reason had been given by Finley).

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Tobias was charged with violating the Statistics Act, but eventually acquitted.

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