On Tories, Politics, and the StatCan Crisis

I’m not going to speak much about the Long-Form StatCan fiasco that the Tories have created this summer because so many other people and news organizations are covering it so well. David Eaves and Datalibre.ca have strong commentary and lists of organizations against it.  The Globe and Mail and The National Post have both kept their attention on the issue, too.   Aside from the fact that great resources already exist on this file, I haven’t offered my thoughts on it yet because so much of the issue lies in rhetoric, ideology, and politics.

Munir Sheikh, speaking truth to power. Click for details.

The Conservative Party of Canada, in its role as government, can if it so desires tell Statistics Canada to ditch the long form.  And Munir Sheikh, as the former director of StatCan, protests the only way he could by tendering his resignation.  Sheikh, like a proper civil servant, spoke truth to power and should be commended for it.  On these points, most people will agree.

If the Conservatives really do believe that the Long Form issue is about compelling citizens to offer information to the government under threat of a prison term (as PMO spokesman Dmitri Soudas keeps saying, as wannabe PM Maxime Bernier keeps suggesting, and as Tony Clement, I suspect, has been ordered to continually argued), then all the government must do to rectify this is change the StatCan Act so that individuals would be rewarded instead of punished for filing the long form.   I won’t take credit for this idea, since I’ve heard it several times in the media in the past week: Offer a $20 tax credit upon completion and submission of the long form. Anyone who has filed income taxes will appreciate the idea of a tax credit, and anyone who has filed income taxes also knows that a $20 credit does not equal $20 in tax savings, either.  This incentive could be a win-win for all parties.

As for the second-most argued point of contention about the long-form – whether or not the government should collect what might be privileged, personal data, e.g., what time you go to work in the morning, how many bedrooms are in the house, I think the CPC is making political hay.  What’s important is not how many bedrooms I, Michael Steeleworthy, possess (2), whether I rent or own (rent), or what time I go to work in the morning (between 8 and 830, depending on the time I wake up).  What matters is the aggregate data that comes of it.  No one is ever going to look at my own data to compromise my privacy – the government has not enough time on its hands to snoop into such arcane matters and has more important things to do.  And frankly, StatCan data is closely guarde  Its data is not freely available to the public, and its original files are kept under lock and key; not even Misters Harper, Soudas, Clement or Bernier could access my census form.  Really, if the government is keen on turning themselves into libertarian ideologues instead being the administrators of representative governance when it comes to the issue of data collection, then it should also stop collecting income taxes at CRA, and as Dan Gardner noted in the Ottawa Citizen, it better bow out of FINTRAC as soon as possible, since if there was ever an Orwellian “spy-on-your-neighbour organization out there”, this is the one.

What’s more, if the CPC is bothered by the collection of information, it may as well shred its own database of party members, which is a storehouse of information that their grassroots base would presumably disagree with (if the current CPC rhetoric about data collection is to be believed) in the first place.  Dear Stephen Harper, I’ve heard that teaching by example is the best way to give a lesson, so let’s start this Data Collection Disruption at home and send the CPC’s own files to the great Shredder in the sky.

Former Ontario Minister Snobelin, famous for wanting to create a "useful crisis" to promote political aims. Click for details.

Snarky comments aside, the long form issue is a political issue, and I don’t see the CPC moving back from it.  I may be wrong – I’m not a seasoned political observer, I’m only a fairly bright fellow living on the east coast.  But one thing is clear: in the tradition of one-time Ontario PC Minister of Education John Snobelin (cf. Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution; Snobelin served alongside Ministers Clement and Flaherty, I might note), the best way to create change in government is to create a crisis.  And that’s what’s happened with the Long Form.  The CPC has created a crisis.  Even if Stephen Harper, through Tony Clement, were to suddenly make peace and reach for consensus, they will have shifted the status quo closer toward their own political ideology.

Halifax Marital Status by Census Tract, 2006

Today’s map is a Valentine’s Day treat for all the single ladies and men in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  By manipulating  2006 Census data at the tract level, I’ve plotted maps that show the marital status of all the men and women in Halifax.(*)

1.  Women who are not in a married relationship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2006 Census:

Women not in a married relationship in Halifax, 2006 Census

2.  Men who are not in a married relationship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2006 Census:

Men not in a married relatonship in Halifax, 2006 Census

(*) Careful attention must be given to meaning of these values.  These maps represent the marital status of all people living in a tract, over the age of 15 – a question that was asked on the 2006 Census.  When a person was asked this question, they could respond by stating that they were:

  • Never legally married (single)
  • Legally married (and not separated)
  • Legally married (but separated)
  • Divorced
  • Widowed

For the purposes of these maps, I have considered anyone who answered “Never legally married (single)”, “Legally married (but separated)”, “Divorced”, or “Widowed” to be your potential special some one who you might meet by accident walking down Spring Garden Road on a sunny, Sunday afternoon.

Note, however, that this census question does not take into account people who are living in a common-law relationship.  StatCan was concerned with marital status as opposed to “relationship status” when asking this question.  The number of common-law relationships in a tract therefore muddles the values because some one who is “never been married (single)” or “divorced,” for instance, may actually be living with some one in a common-law relationship.  In the future I’ll manipulate the numbers to account for this, so for now understand that these maps, strictly speaking, reflect marital status in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Summary Data:

Population of Halifax, aged 15 or above: 312,650

  • Males, 15+: 148,390
    • Males 15+, not in a marital relationship: 74,490 (50.2%)
  • Females, 15+ 164,260
    • Females, 15+,  not in a marital relationship: 90,350 (55.0%)

Please feel free to comment on the maps or to note any errors to be corrected.  In the mean time, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Citations and disclaimers.

These maps were published with data gathered from Statistics Canada 2006 Census Tracts as well as from aggregated data retrieved from the Equinox data delivery system (Tables 97-552-XCB2006005 and 97-552-XCB2006006).  This data was used strictly for scholarly research purposes and in no way in the pursuit of any commercial or income-generating venture.

StatCan and Canadian Aboriginal Incarceration Rates

On 6 August 2009, Donald Marshall, Jr passed away. Marshall, a Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq, was wrongfully charged and convicted in the death of Sandy Seale in 1971.  Although an appeals court overturned the decision in 1983, the presiding judge nonetheless argued that Marshall himself was partly to blame for the conviction. If that’s not the greatest example of systemic racism and of passing the buck, then I don’t know what is.

The eulogies that have since been said for Marshall got me thinking about the prejudices that First Nations people face in the Canadian justice system and in society at large.  Although I’ve always understood that our justice system has never been kind to the First Nations and that the number of aboriginal peoples in correctional institutions are not at all proportionate to their numbers within the general population, I didn’t have a real sense of the problem because I’ve never actually looked at the incarceration rates. So this weekend I logged into Statistic Canada’s E-Stat database to see what the numbers really are.  I first pulled up census data from 1996, 2001, and 2006, all of which are available electronically and asked the general population in a simple question if they self-identified as First Nations in order to get a general sense of the aboriginal population of Canada.  Then I analyzed CANSIM Tables 251-0001, 251-0002, and 251-0012 to cross-reference the national aboriginal population against the the aboriginal prison population.

The findings,  attached as a PDF (click to view), are startling.  On the whole, national aboriginal incarceration rates for 2006 (i.e., at the last census) are nearly 6 1/2 times higher than the aboriginal population as a percentage of the national population:

In 2006, 1,172,785 Canadians self-identified as Aboriginal, or 3.71% of our population of 31,612,897.

Also in 2006, 24% of the 90051 Canadians who were admitted to a custodial sentence self-identified as aboriginal.

(Source: 2006 Census Data; CANSIM Table No. 251-0001: Adult correctional services, admissions to provincial, territorial and federal programs, annual)

The numbers aren’t pretty.  Although StatCan‘s data doesn’t track back to 1971 – the time of Marshall’s conviction – over 25+ years of data shows that the aboriginal incarceration rate has increased steadily.  In 1983, when the Marshall conviction was overturned, 13% of the prison population was aboriginal; since 2001 it has has rested at over 15%, and since 2004 over 20% of the prison population has self-identified as aboriginal.

The same spikes are evident at the youth criminal justice level, as well.  Some incarceration rates at the youth level have increased by over 10% in ten years:

  • In 1998/99: 13.01 % of all youth who were admitted into correctional services self-identified as aboriginal.
    • In 2008/09, 17.9% self-identify as aboriginal.
  • In 1998/99, 14.52% of all youth who were admitted into secure custody self-identified as aboriginal.
    • In 2008/09, 23.57% self-identify as aboriginal.
  • In 1998/99, 15.2% of all youth who were admitted into open custody self-identified as aboriginal.
    • In 2008/09, 27.73% self-identify as aboriginal.
  • (Source: CANSIM Table 251-0012 – Youth custody and community services (YCCS), admissions to correctional services, by sex and aboriginal identity, annual)

There is more data found in the spreadsheet, including a tracking of these national youth criminal justice and adult criminal justice rates on an annual basis.  I’ve also listed the rates for Nova Scotia, Marshall’s home province, but many of these provincial numbers might be unreliable because of the small size of the Nova Scotian population, which results in spikes from one year to another.  Regardless, the patterns that do emerge from the wider national data highly suggest that First Nations peoples have not been given a fair shake by either the justice system or our social structures.

Consult Statistics Canada and the Federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.  StatCan, I only noticed a few hours before publishing this post, recently published a lengthy analysis, “The incarceration of Aboriginal people in adult correctional services” in Juristat 29(3), July 2009, StatCan Catalogue No. 85-002-X.  This 26-page document is a free download for anyone looking to do serious work with the data.