The federal government has finalized a $43.3-million deal that will see the 2006 census conducted with the help of the Canadian subsidiary of a U.S. weapons manufacturer.
While Lockheed Martin Canada Inc. won an open competition for the work, some peace groups and opposition politicians are concerned about taxpayer dollars’ going to a weapons-builder.
“There’s a moral issue, I believe, in having an arms manufacturing industry … do our census data collection among citizens who are very diverse and also have relatives … abroad who could be hurt from the actual products they use,” New Democrat MP Brian Masse said in an interview from his home in Windsor, Ont.
“We’re concerned about Lockheed Martin’s advocacy of the Star Wars program of missile defence,” said Darrell Rankin, an organizer with the No War Coalition in Manitoba.
Lockheed Martin officials were not immediately available for comment.
When negotiations with the company began more than one year ago, federal officials defended the contract, saying Lockheed Martin helped the United States and the United Kingdom modernize their census programs.
Under its contract with Statistics Canada, Lockheed Martin Canada will develop hardware and software to process census forms, even ones filled out by hand.
“It’s very specialized software, using scanners, to actually digitize hand-written responses from 13.6 million households,” said Anil Arora, director of the federal census program.
The computer programs will, for the first time, allow Statistics Canada to accept census forms filed electronically.
There are safeguards in place to ensure the private company cannot get access to the census information, Mr. Arora said.
Lockheed Martin has worked in the United States to develop the space-based missile-defence system – dubbed Star Wars – and its Canadian subsidiary has worked with the Canadian military. The company also works in the information technology sector.
While the company will supply the technology for the census, it will not have access to any completed census forms.
“All the locations where questionnaires and data are handled are Statistics Canada sites,” Mr. Arora said. “They are completely isolated. There’s no external connection from the outside that anybody could hack into.”
Critics fear some census information could leak out and make its way into the hands of the U.S. government.
They point to the U.S. Patriot Act, which was enacted following the terrorist attacks of 2001. It allows the FBI and other U.S. authorities access to information held by private U.S. companies. There are concerns that power might extend to companies in Canada and other countries with headquarters in the United States.
“It’s our understanding that it makes Canadian information vulnerable,” said Mr. Masse, who is the NDP’s industry critic.
British Columbia’s privacy commissioner has launched an investigation into how the Patriot Act might affect B.C. residents.
Two firms with U.S. headquarters have bid to help administer medical billings for the province.
Privacy commissioner David Loukidelis is examining whether the Patriot Act would let the U.S. government force such companies to hand over personal information about British Columbians.
Statistics Canada says security concerns about the census are not valid.
“No private sector contractor will have access to completed census questionnaires,” Mr. Arora said.
That information, he added, will be available only to Statistics Canada employees who have signed confidentiality agreements.