KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Vicky Levack knew the May 11 deadline to file her Census form was quickly approaching.
Levack, 30, who has cerebral palsy, was thrilled to be participating in the census for her first time. As a disability rights activist, she doesn’t want people with disabilities to fall through the cracks when it comes to government funding.
Thinking her questionnaire was lost in the mail, Levack called the Census helpline. When she told the census operator where she lives, she found out she is not eligible to complete the form.
Levack lives at Arborstone Enhanced Care in Halifax, a nursing facility that also offers long-term care for young people with disabilities.
“Somebody at your facility will fill one out for you,” a census operator told her, as Arborstone is considered an “institutional collective dwelling” by Statistics Canada.
“But I’m a citizen,” Levack told the census operator.
“You don’t need to worry about it,” they replied.
When she asked who she should talk to about her situation, the operator had no answers.
Levack doesn’t know who is completing her Census information on her behalf, or even a way to ensure her Census has been completed. She wonders where the information being used for her Census data is coming from, and whether it’s accurate.
“There’s this assumption in our society that if you live in a nursing home, you must be really old and incompetent,” Levack said. “If someone hasn’t been deemed incompetent, then they should be able to fill out their own damn Census.”
Plans for residents to fill out forms ‘on hold until 2026’
The Canadian Census, completed every five years, is used by Statistics Canada to measure the country’s population and help dictate government allocations that support schools, public transportations, and hospitals.
The Census is mandatory, with fines up to $500 for those who fail to complete their questionnaire. Prior to a 2018 legislation change, failing to complete the Census could result in up to three months in jail.
Only 47 cases of households refusing to complete the questionnaire were referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for legal action in 2016. That number was down from 67 in 2006 and 54 in 2011.
Despite the public awareness campaigns to fill out your questionnaire on time, Levack feels like people with disabilities who live in nursing home settings are at risk of being lost in the mix.
“I know the Census can get resources into communities, so I was excited to contribute to that,” Levack said. “To be shut down like that was really disheartening.”
Antonia Lafkas, Communications Officer for Statistics Canada, told the Nova Scotia Advocate that collection procedures had to be redesigned for the 2021 Census to accommodate public health measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No census employee from Statistics Canada will be permitted to visit or enter institutional collective dwellings, especially the dwellings housing residents who are vulnerable to COVID-19, such as residences for senior citizens and hospitals,” Lafkas said.
Questionnaires are sent to administrators of institutional collective dwellings with secure access codes. The administrator is then required to complete a series of questions about the facility, as well as completing the questionnaire for residents of their facility.
“Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, plans for residents to fill out their own forms have been postponed until the 2026 Census of Population,” Lafkas said.
Lafkas encourages anyone who would like to confirm they have been counted in the 2021 Census to reach out to their facility administrator.
Easier said than done for Levack. Arborstone has 190 residents and several administrators.
Nursing home missed Census deadline
Gillian Costello, Senior Communications Manager at Shannex Incorporated, who oversees Arborstone, tells the Nova Scotia Advocate they are “currently working to provide ” required Census forms, as of May 14.
“We would be happy to support any of our residents in reviewing and providing input into their information being provided as part of the census process identified by Statistics Canada,” Costello added.
In an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate, Halifax MP Andy Fillmore’s office confirmed they are in touch with Levack and seeking more information to help.
75 per cent of Canadians receive a short-form census, while the rest receive a long-form questionnaire that takes an estimated 30 minutes to complete.
“It should be, if you’re capable of doing it, then you can do it,” Levack said.
Levack also worries an exception will be made for her, but thousands of other Canadians will be ineligible to fill out their own census.
“Disabled people’s voices are often not heard in government, so this was a way for me to say, ‘Hello, I’m disabled and I’m here. I’m a person.’”
See also: Human rights lawyer calls for accountability of Community Services as COVID-19 threatens institutional facilities
See also: Kendall Worth: No hard census deadline for locked down Nova Scotians who can’t afford Internet
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Not only is it offensive to disallow citizens in care facilities to fill out a census, it is unreasonable to expect staff to do it for all the residents.
“…this was a way for me to say, ‘Hello, I’m disabled and I’m here. I’m a person.’”” Actually, the census does not ask for health information so filling it out will not identify someone as a person with a disability. In my opinion, the census is not a reliable or accurate way to determine how many Canadians identify as having a disability as the long form, which does ask about health status, only goes out to 25% of the population.
“Activities of daily living – Question 18 provides information on the number of people in Canada who may have difficulties doing certain activities, including those who may have a long-term physical, mental or other health condition. This information is used to identify people who are likely to have a disability. Statistics Canada will then follow up with a more detailed survey.”