OTTAWA - The top Jewish and Evangelical Christian organizations in Canada have joined the surging wave of opposition to the Conservative government's axing of next year's long census.

The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada have both written to the Conservative cabinet to say they rely heavily on the data from the census in order to serve their faith communities.

Questions on religion are asked on the compulsory census every 10 years and the 2011 census would have been the next opportunity. The government has replaced the long census with a voluntary household survey.

Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said every Jewish federation in the country signed a letter this week addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that he reverse the census decision.

"It allows us to create long-term planning for charitable fundraising, for implementing programs and services that support everything, from cultural, social, health care, education, housing , recreational needs -- the whole gamut," Farber said in an interview. "Without that demographic data, we just can't plan properly."

Census taking is a firmly rooted in the Jewish tradition, Farber said. It is laid out in the ancient texts of the Torah. Jewish scholars believe the process is rooted in the concept of collective society and helps a community maintain a sense of identity.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada decried the fact that the federal government never mentioned it was considering the change when it recently consulted with the organization and others about the 2011 census.

The fellowship had actually asked that an additional question on religious participation -- not just affiliation -- be included in the long form.

"The census in recent years has become very important for churches and religious understanding their neighbourhoods, and how to intelligently do more outreach within their neighbourhoods," said Rick Hiemstra, director of the Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism.

"What we have now is the potential of losing that information and losing the historical comparability of the data. We're not going to be able to understand how the religious landscape in Canada is changing."

Both the Jewish Congress and the fellowship say a voluntary survey is not an adequate replacement for the compulsory census because certain groups might be less inclined to fill out the form and therefore the data will be skewed.

Hiemstra points out that many newcomers to Canada are Evangelical Christians.

"Because of language barriers, because of being on the periphery of Canadian society they're less likely to answer a survey, and so they essentially become invisible in the country," said Hiemstra. "When you don't see them, you don't make accommodation...."

The Jewish and Christian communities both form important elements in Conservative electoral mathematics. But the decision to eliminate the long form census was based on complaints from an unspecified number of Canadians who find the long census coercive and intrusive.

Canada's privacy commissioner said earlier in the week that she had only received two complaints about the 2006 census and had no issues with the proposed 2011 process.

No prior polling or consultation was done on the matter, but Industry Minister Tony Clement said Thursday he has received dozens of letters from Canadians who support the decision.

"I am not saying it's every Canadian, but I am saying there are Canadians (who complained) and we should try to accommodate their concerns in a balanced way," he said after visits to McGill and Concordia Universities in Montreal.

A few hours later, the Quebec Conference of University Rectors and Principals, which includes McGill and Concordia, put out a statement saying they were opposed to the census change.

A number of other high-profile voices added their names to the list of opponents Thursday. They included:

  • The Canadian Medical Association Journal, which slammed the Harper government for what they called a decision based on "ideology." The editorial underlined that many health services decisions are based on census data.
  • The Statistical Institute of Quebec, a provincial agency, said the change would impact the coherence, comparability and quality of the data. Many provincial departments depend on census data.
  • Prince Edward Island's Finance and Municipal Affairs Minister Wes Sheridan, who said the province relies on census data in its delivery of services.