canada census

Written by Dean Tea.

When I shop at Shoppers Drug Mart the cashier always asks if I have an Optimum Card and whether I would be interested in signing up for one. If I did sign up, I would become part of the store’s customer loyalty program and be eligible for discounts and store credits that accrue the more I shop there. It also helps Shoppers Drug Mart track their customers’ purchases so they know what they like, how much they buy, how often and at what prices.

I always say no thank you, but return next time I need shampoo or cold medicine or to grab a bag of milk on my way home. They’re always happy to see me and to have my business when I return.

Countless private businesses have programs like this. I’ve signed up for loyalty cards in the past, or given my e-mail address at check-outs when I’m sufficiently enticed by whatever perk or discount is being offered, or if I just happen to be in a good mood. Other businesses have voluntary customer tracking databases that are beneficial for both customers and businesses, or contract with agencies that help them to gather demographic information about their customers. It means being able to ask a store to check your purchase history if you want to buy the same brand of car wax you tried last summer, but can’t remember the name. It also means that you can call a business and any employee will be able to assist you, even if you’ve never dealt with them before since they can pull up your customer record. And most importantly, this voluntary sharing of information ensures that businesses and customers are able to reach each other, that shelves are sufficiently stocked, stores are conveniently located and prices are agreeable for all parties.

It’s a different experience when you say no thank you to the Government of Canada’s version of the Optimum Card – the census (note: no perks or special deals for signing up!). When I decided not to participate, a stranger representing the government showed up at my home with threats of jail time.

In no world would it be acceptable for a Shoppers Drug Mart employee to show up at my home and threaten me in order to get me to sign up for an Optimum Card. And if it ever did happen, I would at least have the option to never shop there again and encourage all of my friends to do the same.

To be clear: I am not paranoid about the information the census is looking for from me. All of the information they are requesting (with the exception of my native language, which can be easily deduced), they already have from my most recent tax return. They even mention on the census form that they will be taking information from income tax returns.

This situation is an illustration of the perhaps uncomfortable fact that everything the government does, every demand it makes of you, no matter how politely it may be presented, is backed up by an implicit threat of violence. If you do not comply, agents of the government will show up at your home, and eventually will use physical force to restrain and confine you. If you continue to resist, they will kill you.

A Shoppers Drug Mart employee has never showed up at my door threatening to kidnap me if I don’t sign up for an Optimum Card. Yet every time I go there, their shelves are amply stocked with shampoo, medicine and toiletries.

Galen Weston hasn’t ever called me while I was eating dinner, demanding to know what’s in my fridge, yet there’s at least one Loblaws in every city near me stocked with fresh and affordable food.

Tim Hortons has never sent one of their workers to my house in order to find out how many cups of coffee I drink in a day. If I ever need a caffeine fix, a Timmie’s is never far away.

Good ideas don’t require force.

Last night a census employee showed up at my home with threats of jail time.