Effects of ending long-form census will be revealed in forthcoming StatsCan report

A Toronto woman will appear in court today for refusing to fill out the census because it's processed from U.S. military contractor Lockheed Martin. Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Has Statistics Canada – renowned around the world for its ability to take snapshots of Canadian life – lost some of its zoom?

The answer will come Wednesday, when the agency’s National Household Survey reveals how much critical information was lost in the controversial transition two years ago from a mandatory long-form census to a voluntary questionnaire.

Experts and observers say they expect the very specific, neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood information about certain types of Canadians – long a hallmark of the census – will be much more limited.

To be sure, the results of the inaugural National Household Survey will still include detailed information about immigration, birthplace, aboriginal Canadians and visible minorities, among other categories.

But the folks who develop policy and plan for items such as roads, hospitals, low-income housing, recreation centres and immigrant services across Canada are worried about how far they’ll be able to drill down into the numbers.

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“This information is important so each of the communities will be able to push the government on programs and benefits and actions that are needed to address disparities,” said Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.

“It’s not just visible minorities as a category or women as a category, we need more detail within that category.”

The Conservatives cited concerns about personal freedoms in 2010 when they eliminated the long-form census, which famously threatened fines or even jail time for those who didn’t want to fill it out.

That decision prompted an outcry from municipalities, economists, cultural and religious groups and the opposition parties, among others.

Statistics Canada has already signalled that the quality of the information won’t be the same.

One-third of Canadian households received the National Household Survey in 2011, and of those, 68.6 per cent completed it fully, compared with the typical 94 per cent response rate of a mandatory questionnaire.

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