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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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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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