Census Resister Says She Was Concerned about U.S. Defence Giant's Involvement

Article excerpt

Census resister worried about Lockheed Martin

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TORONTO - A 79-year-old woman on trial for refusing to fill out the mandatory census in 2011 stood staunchly by her decision Wednesday, as her lawyer suggested the government didn't do enough to address her concerns about a U.S. arms maker's role in the data collection process.

The Crown, however, argued that Canadians cannot refuse to comply with legitimate government obligations simply on the basis of moral disapproval or speculative security fears.

Janet Churnin has been charged with violating the Statistics Act and, if convicted, could face a $500 fine and/or three months in jail.

"Whatever happens will happen," the soft-spoken senior said with a shrug outside a Toronto court. "I still wouldn't change anything."

At the heart of Churnin's worries lies defence company Lockheed Martin's involvement in the census process, which she learned about only after reading a newspaper article flagged by a friend in 2011.

Statistics Canada has said the government contracted Lockheed Martin to provide software for its census operations in 2003, and used the custom-built systems for both the 2006 and 2011 census.

Churnin worried information on Canada's population was at risk because she thought it could be accessed by Lockheed Martin, or even the U.S. government if it made the corporation turn over the data under its Patriot Act.

"Your privacy is not considered at all," she told court when explaining her decision to refrain from filling out the census form.

"I don't believe that Statistics Canada shared information willingly. But I think that once the information got to Lockheed Martin, it could be easily accessed."

Churnin, who describes herself as a peace activist, also said she didn't want to appear to be supporting Lockheed Martin or be associated with them in any way due to their reputation as a defence giant.

Simply not filling out the census form, she said, was the most direct form of protest.

"I'm too old at the moment to go on any marches," she explained at her trial. "This is the easiest way for me to demonstrate that I don't like the census form being accessed by an American company."

A third factor in Churnin's refusal was a desire to protest the federal government's scrapping of the long-form census, which was replaced with a voluntary national household survey.

Churnin explained that her actions were not to be confused with an opposition to collecting statistics in general -- in fact, she'd rather have the mandatory long-form reinstated but doesn't want a U.S. company involved in the data collection.

Crown lawyer Maria Gaspar argued that filling out the census form in no way threatened Churnin's beliefs or her ability to carry out those beliefs.

"The purpose of the census form is not to restrict expression, it doesn't even have the effect of restricting expression," Gaspar said. …