2 min

Collecting the info

The feds have kept files on us all

WHERE WILL HOMO CENSUS INFO GO? Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart under fire. Credit: Xtra files

Tax forms and the census will soon collect information about same-sex spouses. And you never know who may be interested.

Under increasing pressure, the federal government has just announced that it will dismantle its Longitudinal Labour Force Survey, a mega database in Human Resources Development Canada of all sorts of information available about individual citizens.

The survey includes information from many sources, including tax returns and immigration documents. Several government departments can access the files for research purposes.

This trail may allow government officials to find out who your partner is (through the SIN number on a tax return) or if you’ve sponsored a partner’s immigration.

The database came to light last month, and though there’s been a promise to dismantle, there’s no guarantee something similar won’t take its place.

Although the Privacy Commissioner has expressed many concerns about the database, finding out who you sleep with is not one of them.

“That’s information that you provide yourself, anyway, so that wouldn’t be a surprise, I assume,” says Susan Wheeler, a communications person in the privacy office.

“You would declare that in your own file. You know who your own spouse is. So it’s not something that would take you into someone else’s information.”

When contacted, John Fisher at the national gay rights group Equality For Gays And Lesbians Everywhere had no comment on the files at HRDC, other than to say that “EGALE would not support the government maintaining information that is not necessary for the discharge of its responsibilities.

(EGALE fought hard and long for the gay additions to the census.)

The federal government collects information in many ways.

The 2001 Census (for the first time) will let people tick off a box that describes their relationship as “same-sex common law.” The information will become part of the pool of census data.

But unlike the HRDC data, census data is not searchable by individual.

“We don’t release individual records, for one,” says Rosemary Bender, manager of the 2001 Census Content Determination. She adds that even groupings of data must shield the identities of individuals. This becomes important in small areas, where indicating the presence of one or two characteristics can single out a person.

“We randomly round the data just to ensure that no single individual can be identified from any of the data that we release,” adds Bender.

If you’re curious to find out just what Human Resources has in your file, the Privacy Act entitles you to know.

Personal Information Request forms are available from MP offices, libraries and the Treasury Board Secretariat website. The form is one page long.

You must indicate which department you seek information from (Human Resources Development Canada) and which database you want to access (HRDC PPU 335). The form is sent to the Access To Information And Privacy Coordinator at HRDC.

The government must respond to your request within 30 days.