2 min

The census counts

Author calls on all Canadians to lie

MYOB. The venerable Jane Rule says enough is enough - and that spousal relationships are not the business of the state. Credit: Xtra files

Lie on the census.

That’s what acclaimed lesbian author Jane Rule wants Canadians – straight and gay – to do on Tue, May 15.

Rule, author of Desert Of The Heart and a long-time lesbian icon, wants everybody to declare themselves single – even if married – and to leave blank the question about common-law same-sex relationships.

“Trudeau said the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” says Rule, referring to the late prime minister credited with bringing acceptance of homosexuality into the mainstream. “But the government is climbing right back in, with big boots on.”

The British Columbia resident says the census question is another opportunity to let the government define private relationships, something which she has always fought.

The 2001 census is the first in Canadian history to track same-sex relationships on an equal basis with those of straights.

In section four (“marriage status”), the questionnaire offers four choices: single, legally married and not separated, separated but still legally married, divorced and widowed. In section five (“Is this person living with a common-law partner?”), people must choose yes or no. Common-law is defined as “two people of the opposite sex or of the same sex who live together as a couple but who are not legally married to each other.”

Not filling out your census form can lead to a $500 fine or three months in prison.

Rule says that, at 70 years of age, she doesn’t care.

For lesbians and gay men uncomfortable with disclosing sexual orientation, especially older couples, Rule adds that the census puts them in the uncomfortable position of “another layer of lying.”

The addition of same-sex couples into everything from government statistics to employment benefits is nothing to celebrate, Rule says. (This year Rule has come out firing against common-law recognition, and taken sideswipes at the marriage fight.)

She opposes any government favouring one kind of relationship over – such as bestowing special status and benefits through licensing marriage or recognizing common-law relationships over singletons.

“What we’re doing is we’re saying, ‘Oh look, the heterosexuals get this, and that’s more than we get,’ instead of looking at it as a circumstance where the government – or the employer – is dictating to us things that are private to us and having nothing to do with them at all.”

National lobby group Egale Canada fought for years to have lesbian and gay couples included in the census.

Executive director John Fisher says an under-reporting of same-sex relationships is expected. But he believes the accuracy will improve over time.

“She’s certainly entitled to her opinion; it’s not one we necessarily share,” says Fisher. “We feel if the census is going to ask about relationships, which it has for years, it would paint a distorted picture of Canadian family life to force those in same-sex relationships to indicate they are single, when in fact they’re not.”