An 89-year-old Toronto woman is willing to go to jail over Statistics Canada’s choice of number crunchers.
It’s not that Audrey Tobias detests numbers or math nerds. Rather, she hates the company that is processing the census data for the government agency: Lockheed Martin.
On Thursday, she will take the stand to explain to a judge why she refused to fill out the form.
“It’s simple. I cannot support anything that has anything to do with Lockheed Martin,” she said.
The American aeronautics and weapons manufacturer scans the census forms using “optic recognition” software. The federal government paid the company $84 million for its work on the 2006 and 2011 censuses.
“Why can’t a Canadian tech company do this work?” she asked over tea and brownies at her Thorncliffe apartment.
Lockheed was the only company to bid on the work.
When Tobias discovered the Lockheed connection, she ignored the census. A dangerous move. Ignore such forms, it says, and suffer fines and/or jail time.
But she is a peace activist — “not a pacifist!” — and a war veteran. She just couldn’t associate herself with a company that builds and sells cluster bombs, missiles and the F-35 fighter jet.
A few more forms came in the mail, “reminding” her to fill out the census. She didn’t. Then came a knock at the door.
“A really nice census lady showed up,” Tobias said. Over tea Tobias explained her position to the woman. She thought she had a sympathetic ear.
Then came another visit. A different woman, but the same conversation over the same tea.
This time Tobias gave her a letter to take back to the census overlords, explaining in simple language that she will not complete the forms.
It read, in part: “My government is requiring me to co-operate with a company of questionable morals. I will not do that.”
Then came the notice, written entirely in capital letters, that she’d been charged with a criminal offence.
At Old City Hall Thursday she faces the long arm of the Statistics Act: contravening it nets a potential $500 fine and/or three months in jail.
“What, are they going to put a little 89-year-old in jail? Well, let them,” Tobias said, defiant and livid that it has come to this.
“Shouldn’t the federal government face the same courts for killing the long-form census?”
Tobias also worries about who has access to Canadians’ personal information, notably Lockheed Martin.
Statistics Canada officials said neither Lockheed Martin nor anyone else for that matter has access to the census data. That would require, the spokesperson said, permission from each Canadian. And no one has asked for it.
So it goes. Tobias is arming herself for the fight Thursday.
“I will not pay a fine,” she said. “I will not do community service — I already do a lot for the community. So if I have to go to jail, I’ll go to jail.
“I guess I should be nervous. But I’m not. Should I be? No, no, no, I shouldn’t be. I’ll sleep just fine tonight.”