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Extract from the Directive on Informing Survey Respondents

The following information must be communicated to survey participants:

  • the principal purpose(s) of the survey (including the expected uses and users of the statistics to be produced from the survey)
  • the authority under which the survey is taken
  • the mandatory or voluntary nature of the survey
  • the confidentiality protection offered by the Statistics Act

The mandatory nature of these requirements stems from the Privacy Act, the Statistics Act, and from Treasury Board Secretariat policies.

As applicable, the following information must also be communicated to the survey participant:

  • record linkage plans
  • joint collection agreements
  • data-sharing agreements and waivers for the disclosure of confidential information
  • the longitudinal nature of the survey
  • the deadline by which a completed questionnaire must be returned
  • the recommended methods of returning questionnaires
  • the risks associated with using means other than the ones recommended to return a completed questionnaire

The mandatory nature of these requirements stems from the Privacy Act, the Statistics Act, and from Treasury Board Secretariat’s Policy on Privacy Protection.

1. Principal purpose(s) of the survey

The major intended uses and identified users of the data, including any subsequent follow-up surveys, must be explained. It is important to describe the objective(s) of the data collection as opposed to the type of information collected.

In the spirit of transparency and as a good respondent relations practice, the survey’s title must be communicated to the respondent. This will enable the respondent to clearly understand the program for which the information is collected. As well, the Information for survey participants module on the Statistics Canada web site is organized according to the survey title/program name, so it is reasonable to provide the survey name to respondents.

If the survey information may be used for secondary purposes such as using respondent information for sample selection of subsequent surveys, respondents must be informed of this use, if it is known at the time of collection.

2. Authority

Statistics Canada is legally authorized by the Statistics Act to collect information about persons, businesses and organizations to fulfill its mandate as the national statistical agency. The reference to the Statistics Act subjects the collected information to its confidentiality provisions. Furthermore, in accordance with the Privacy Act, a government institution shall only collect personal information relevant to an operating program or activity. For Statistics Canada, operating programs are those authorized by the Statistics Act.

3. Mandatory or voluntary nature of the survey

The Statistics Act requires all persons and businesses to answer questions posed in a survey carried out by Statistics Canada, unless an order has been issued, pursuant to section 8, to authorize the collection on a voluntary basis.

When contacted for the survey, respondents must be advised whether their participation in the survey is voluntary or mandatory.

(a) Voluntary surveys

In the case of voluntary surveys, respondents must be informed explicitly that their participation is voluntary. Other information about the survey may be communicated first, but the voluntary nature of the survey must be communicated prior to any survey questions being asked. Should additional enquiries about the voluntary nature of the survey be made at any time, a direct response must be immediately provided.

(b) Mandatory surveys

In the case of mandatory surveys, respondents must be advised in a factual and non-threatening manner that their participation is required by law.

4. Confidentiality protection

The confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act must be clearly explained and the key procedures that ensure the confidentiality of their information must be provided to respondents.

5. Record linkage

Respondents must be notified of planned and/or potential linkage of their survey responses to data from other surveys or administrative files. Notification may be specific or general.

For longitudinal surveys, respondents must be notified at the time of the first cycle that their information will be combined with information collected in future cycles. At subsequent cycles, respondents must be informed that their information will be combined with previously-collected survey information.

The linkage of survey and administrative data is a key element of the strategy for the economic statistics program. The strategy significantly reduces response burden for businesses and results in data that are more consistent across surveys and have higher quality. To be transparent to business survey respondents, this strategy must be communicated.

The linkage of survey and administrative data is also a key element in reducing respondent burden and increasing data quality and consistency in household surveys. To be transparent to household survey respondents, and to respect their privacy rights, the planned or potential linkage of their survey responses to other surveys or administrative data must be communicated.

Whether or not record linkage consent is sought, if a respondent to a voluntary survey states that they object to the planned or potential record linkage (of which they must be informed), no linkage of their survey responses is permitted. The survey must be designed to record a respondent's objection. When collection is done by paper questionnaire or EDR, the respondent should be provided with a means to record their objection to linkage immediately after the text informing the respondent of planned or potential record linkage.

6. Joint collection and data-sharing agreements

Any joint collection or data-sharing agreements under section 11 and section 12 of the Statistics Act applicable to the survey must be fully explained to respondents, regardless of the collection method.

All efforts must be made to ensure that data-sharing agreements are signed by all parties prior to the start of data collection. Respondents are informed during collection that sharing partners have agreed to specific terms and conditions, namely that respondent information will be kept confidential and used only for statistical purposes by the sharing partner. The Chief Statistician’s approval in principle is required sufficiently far enough in advance so that collection materials can be modified according to the decision on whether Statistics Canada will agree to share data as requested by the other organization.

7. Waiver to disclose confidential information

Disclosure with consent

Paragraphs 17(2)(b) and (c) of the Statistics Act allow the disclosure of confidential information provided that the person or the owner of the business as applicable, consents in the form of a written “waiver”. Prior to any disclosure, the Chief Statistician, who has the final authority on disclosure, must sign a discretionary disclosure order.

A waiver from the respondent can be requested at the time of, or following, survey collection. For ongoing surveys, waivers may be requested for future collections if all the conditions remain the same. However, the Chief Statistician must sign a new order annually.

For surveys or programs requiring on-going waivers, a waiver is valid for a maximum of three years. After three years a reminder of the waiver must be sent to the respondent; otherwise, the Chief Statistician will not sign the order. Subject-matter divisions must keep records of reminders sent to respondents and send a list of these respondents when submitting a request for a waiver.

Disclosure of confidential information without consent

Paragraphs 17(2)(a), (d), (e), (f) and (g) of the Statistics Act allow the disclosure of confidential information without the consent of the respondents under the limited and specific conditions listed in the Act.

Any disclosure of information under the authority of these paragraphs must be approved by the Chief Statistician.

8. Notification for longitudinal surveys

Respondents must be informed prior to collection that the survey is longitudinal, and that they will be re-contacted in the future. At the time of the first cycle of the survey, respondents must be explicitly told of the future plans for data collection and that the information they provide from each collection will be combined for analysis.

For subsequent cycles of a longitudinal survey, respondents must be notified that it is a follow-up of a previous survey and that their information will be combined with the information they previously provided.

9. Deadline by which a completed questionnaire must be returned

In the case of self-enumeration questionnaires, a requested return date must be clearly indicated.

10. Recommended methods of returning questionnaires and the risks associated with using other means

It is Statistics Canada’s practice to request that respondents return completed self-enumerated paper questionnaires by mail. However, many respondents, especially for business surveys, prefer to return their questionnaires by fax or e-mail.

Respondents must, therefore, be informed on the questionnaire that such transmission is at their own risk.

11. Collection of personal information

In order to comply with Treasury Board policies and directives, there may be a requirement for additional documentation if personal information is collected on the survey.

12. Information for survey participants module on the Statistics Canada web site

This module is an integral part of meeting the obligation to inform survey participants. Not all respondents will visit this site. However, for those who wish more detailed information than is provided by letters, brochures and by interviewers, this is an efficient method of providing detailed information.

Survey managers must ensure that the information is updated prior to every collection cycle. In most cases, the information will not require frequent modification. However, it is important that the information be accurate.