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Stats Canada planning to ask gender questions in ‘pilot’ census – and answering is mandatory

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Next year, Statistics Canada is going to be asking 250,000 Canadian households some personal questions it has never asked before — and answering them honestly is mandatory.

The agency is conducting what it calls a “pilot” census next May and June to road-test questionnaires and procedures for the next full-scale census, set for 2021.

After more than a year of consultations with data users, Statistics Canada has decided to add detailed personal questions – and needs to be sure they are properly answered to ensure the test is valid.

Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada (Statistics Canada), made the 2019 pilot census mandatory, in an official notice that said a voluntary pilot would be “inconclusive.” (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

That’s why Canada’s chief statistician, Anil Arora, has invoked a little-used power in the Statistics Act to declare that the pilot census next year is a “mandatory request for information.”

Anyone who refuses to complete a mandatory census questionnaire, or “knowingly gives false or misleading information or practises any other deception,” can be fined up to $500. (In late 2017, Parliament eliminated the former penalty: up to three months in jail.)

Arora justified his decision to make the pilot census mandatory in a September notice he sent to Industry Minister Navdeep Bains. “Voluntary tests in 2019,” he told the minister, “could yield inaccurate or inconclusive findings for many of the proposed changes to questionnaire content.”

CBC News obtained the notice under the Access to Information Act.

Statistics Canada canvassed academics and other users of census data from September 2017 to February 2018 on the new questions to be added in 2021. A report on the findings is to be published in the fall of next year.

Agency spokesperson Peter Frayne declined to provide the new questions to CBC News, calling them a “work-in-progress.”

But Arora’s notice to Bains indicates they deal with sex and gender, among other topics.

“Many of the content changes proposed for 2021 affect smaller population groups (transgender, non-binary, same-sex couples; language rights-holders; ethnic groups; residents with work or student visas; Indigenous populations, etc.),” he wrote.

Veterans, religion

Frayne said the new questions will also deal with veterans, general health status, religion, skills related to digital technology, and small changes will be made to questions asked in previous census years.

Under the Statistics Act, the federal cabinet must approve the final set of questions for the 2021 census but the questions for the 2019 pilot need only be approved by the agency itself.

Statistics Canada has conducted similar pre-census tests before, but a much wider range of personal questions is slated for 2019.

The agency recently stoked controversy when news emerged that it planned to collect banking and credit information from banks on some 500,000 Canadians — part of another pilot project slated for 2019.

Arora later suspended the project while Canada’s privacy commissioner investigated, a process that office says will take months. The stalled financial data pilot was not a direct survey of Canadians, unlike a census.

A spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said the office has been alerted to the 2019 census pilot.

“We have had some very preliminary discussions with Statistics Canada about the 2019 census test and they have undertaken to get back to us with more information,” Corey Larocque said in an email.

Answers are collected under the authority of the Statistics Act and are kept strictly confidential.– Statistics Canada spokesman Peter Frayne

In the last year, Arora authorized three other mandatory surveys — two of them compelling businesses to provide data on mineral production and another related to global-supply chains.

On Jan. 25, 2018, the agency published its standards on definitions and usage for sex and gender, which will inform its coming census questions.

Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for Statistics Canada, received the mandatory notice from Arora in September. The pilot census will contain many new personal questions. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

“Gender refers to the gender that a person internally feels … and/or the gender a person publicly expresses … in their daily life, including at work, while shopping or accessing other services, in their housing environment or in the broader community,” says the standard for gender of person.

“Sex and gender refer to two different concepts. Caution should be exercised when comparing counts for sex with those for gender. For example, female sex is not the same as female gender.”

The last census in 2016 did not give Canadians the option of responding to the sex question in a non-binary fashion: the only acceptable answers were ‘male’ and ‘female’.

Frayne said the 2019 pilot census will employ electronic and paper formats, and some households will receive personal visits. The results will be kept “strictly confidential,” he added.

Previous breaches

CBC News reported earlier this year that Statistics Canada lost hundreds of sensitive files during the 2016 census process. Incident reports obtained through the Access to Information Act detailed 20 cases of information and privacy breaches by Statistics Canada.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2010 cancelled Statistics Canada’s long-form census, scheduled for 2011, for which some households were required to provide more detailed information than in the standard census questionnaire.

Then-industry minister Tony Clement, in the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, cancelled the long-form census for 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“We do not believe it is appropriate to compel Canadians to divulge extensive private and personal information,” Tony Clement, then-industry minister, said at the time in justifying the move.

“We do not believe Canadians should be forced under threat of fines, jail, or both to divulge the answers to questions such as these: How many sick days did you take last year? Were you paid for those? What were your total payments for your primary dwelling last year? Do you have any broken floor tiles in need of repair in your bathroom?”

The Liberal government reversed the decision and reinstated the long-form census for 2016.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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