A move to ‘decision-based evidence-making’

Social Planning Toronto’s senior researcher Beth Wilson addressed six hundred public health practitioners at the 2011 Canadian Public Health Association’s conference in Montreal this June. As an invited speaker, Beth joined with public health research chairs Dr. Pat Martens and Dr. Gilles Paradis to discuss the fight for the long form census and the future of public health research following the federal government’s damaging decision. Beth’s presentation focused on the Save the Census campaign, implications for public health from the loss of the long form, and the current Right to be Counted charter challenge waged by twelve nonprofit community organizations including SPT.


The following write-up is from the CPHA "eDaily" newsletter:

Ex-Chief Statistician Dr. Munir Sheikh received a round of applause in absentia when Beth Wilson, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst with Social Planning Toronto, recalled his “unprecedented and very courageous move” following the cancellation of the Long-Form Census.

Sheikh resigned after then-Industry Minister Tony Clement implied that Statistics Canada endorsed the Cabinet’s decision, thereby becoming “the unlikely hero of an unlikely protest movement,” Wilson said. The cancellation produced a wave of reaction, with 488 organizations joining a coalition to reverse the decision. Wilson cited one comment from Armine Yalnizian, Senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:

Without a foundation of reliable, consistent information, evidence-based public policy is impossible. It is troubling to think that our elected leaders think decision-based evidence-making is preferable.

Wilson said medical officers of health and other public health professionals across the country “really led the charge in calling for the reinstatement of the Long-Form Census,“ with simultaneous regional media conferences explaining how the decision would be harmful to health. “Public health lent legitimacy to the cause that many others were talking about, and that made it safe for other organizations that may have been a bit shy to come forward.”

She showed a photo of epidemiologists and statisticians rallying against the cancellation, qualifying them as “probably the best-dressed protesters we’ve ever seen on Parliament Hill.” But none of that activity affected the government’s decision, and Wilson enumerated some of the health and equity research that is threatened as a result.

A Charter challenge led by the Canadian Council on Social Development, arguing that provisions on discrimination and equality entitle different groups to be counted in the census, will be heard in the next two months and should be decided by the end of the year. “It really speaks to the importance of the census in reflecting back to us who we are as a country and who belongs,” Wilson said. “It asserts that the exclusion of these groups constitutes discrimination.”

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