Jun 252008

 Kingston Whig Standard  (the webpage no longer exists)

A matter of conscience

Wed June 25  

Our national census -taking operation, Statistics Canada, is a valuable federal institution. Using feedback directly provided by citizens, it shoots out reports that enable us to track important social trends and attitudes. 

But Statistics Canada is no benign, merely informative, bureaucracy. As an arm of the federal government, it holds one important power: the ability to make you comply. 

Just ask Todd Stelmach of Kingston. Stelmach appears on a list of 63 Canadians who have refused to fill in and return their census forms. And despite his conscientious objections, Stelmach has been tracked down by the RCMP and has had to appear in court twice already. If ultimately charged by police, he faces a possible $500 fine or three months in jail. 

The compliance rate for Canadians filling out their census forms is high.

With little concern for the legal requirement of the task, the vast majority of Canadians don’t mind offering up their personal information for the statistical cause. Stelmach, however, has some serious personal concerns. 

He found out that the American company Lockheed Martin Corporation had been contracted by Statistics Canada to develop the software to process census information. Lockheed Martin is also a global giant in the production of arms for military purposes. As a Christian opposed to war, Stelmach decided it would contravene his personal values to participate. 

In an interview with the Whig-Standard, the director general of census management for Statistics Canada downplayed the Lockheed Martin role. “It’s like upgrading the software on your PC. They update the software to process the questionnaires,” said Peter Morrison. 

But the bottom line is that Lockheed Martin profits from our tax dollars. 

Perhaps Statistics Canada should conduct a survey asking Canadians how often they make decisions based on ethical considerations. 

More and more people are opting, for example, to invest their money in financial portfolios that are sensitive to environmental and political issues. There are probably more than a few people who, if they discovered Lockheed Martin or some other arms manufacturer in a list of investment options, would decline to invest in it – for the very same reasons Todd Stelmach is withholding his information. 

What’s most disturbing is how the heavy hand of the federal government is squeezing Stelmach. 

The RCMP were called in to hunt him down. And he has already appeared twice in court to hear the evidence against him. He is scheduled to hear the charges in a Brockville court on July 4. 

How much money has been spent on his case involving a host of Statistics Canada officials, police, lawyers and judges? Then multiply that figure by 63 to represent all the Canadians in the same position.

All because they refused to fill out a census form. Clearly, the laws are wrong when a person cannot opt out of a census on matters of principle. One of the most important roles we have as citizens is to vote. Yet even participation in elections isn’t mandatory. 

Statistics Canada has created its own headaches. It can cite the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement requiring it to consider all bidders for contracts, foreign and domestic. It can wield the powers granted to it by the state to prosecute those who don’t comply. 

But it didn’t factor in the conscience, free will and independent thinking of one citizen when it chose Lockheed Martin.

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