Loading articles...

Toronto senior census resister heads to trial

A 79-year-old Toronto woman headed to trial Friday firmly defending her refusal to fill out the mandatory census in 2011, saying she had serious concerns over a U.S. arms maker’s involvement in processing data on Canada’s population.

Janet Churnin has been charged with violating the Statistics Act.

But despite facing the possibility of a fine and three months in jail, the soft-spoken senior said she was ready for whatever the legal proceedings throw her way.

“I just think whatever’s going to happen is going to happen,” she said outside court as some of her friends looked on. “There are worse criminals than me floating around.”

Statistics Canada has said it purchased American company Lockheed Martin’s software back in 2003 and has used it for both the 2006 and 2011 census.

Churnin believes she filled out the census in previous years but realized only in 2011 that the government used software from the U.S. company.

“I am very much against war and I’m very much against people dropping bombs on people and I think that we should try our best to make war irrelevant,” she said when explaining why she refused to fill out the census forms. “I don’t want to support Lockheed Martin.”

Another concern for Churnin was knowing that data on Canadians was being processed by software made by an American defence company.

“They will have access to all the information about Canadians that is going to be on the form,” she said, adding that she also wanted to protest the government’s scrapping of the long-form census — which was replaced with a voluntary national household survey.

Churnin’s lawyer planned to argue that her Charter rights were violated “in several respects” by being required to answer the short-form census.

“It associates her with the arms manufacturer and she as a supporter of peace finds that repulsive,” Peter Rosenthal said in an interview.

“Secondly, there’s a good chance that Lockheed Martin could use the fact that it designs the software in order to get the data from the census into U.S. intelligence hands.”

Rosenthal pointed to recent leaked information by former U.S. intelligence employee Edward Snowden as justification for Churnin’s fears. Snowden released thousands of documents showing massive trawling of domestic data by the National Security Agency.

Churnin’s case is similar to that of an 89-year-old peace activist who also refused to fill out the 2011 census. In that case, Audrey Tobias was found not guilty in October by a Toronto judge who soundly criticized the government for trying to prosecute someone who was a “model citizen.”

What makes Churnin’s case different from Tobias’s — according to Rosenthal — is the argument that will be made about security fears regarding Lockheed.

“What I’m most hopeful about is that the court will recognize that having Lockheed Martin do the software means that Statistics Canada was negligent in maintaining the information that they get,” he said.

“We’re going to argue that collecting census data and allowing Lockheed Martin such easy access to it, is an unreasonable seizure of information. It’s a very novel kind of argument.”

In 2011, StatsCan received 13 million completed census forms, a 98 per cent response rate. Overall, it referred 54 people for prosecution for failing to complete the mandatory census form.