Saturday, 9 July 2011

Guest Post - Privacy Laws in Ontario

I recently had the great pleasure to be a guest of the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society ( The wonderful Linda Reid and her husband Pierce, both members of the branch, looked after me throughout my stay, and at one point Linda explained to me how privacy obsessed Ontario is, to the point of the almost ludicrous, and an issue which Canadians will have felt with the recent census which asked for little more than name and address. Linda has had a few battles with the Ontario Registrar General's staff over the last few years over the matter, and I asked if she could post her experiences on my blog to share with us here in Scotland, particularly for those who may have connections in Canada. If you think we have problems in Scotland or the UK on the issue in terms of access to records for genealogical research, take a look at what is happening over the Atlantic!

When you were in Toronto last month I mentioned how lucky the Scots are to have access to their BMD's. In Canada births, marriages and deaths are registered at the provincial, not the national level. Ontarians are limited by the arbitary and sometimes ridiculous policies of the Ontario Registrar General. A recent item in The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, on June 27 tells the story of how the Ontario Registrar General's office deleted a man's middle name from the birth records and told him that he would have to pay a change of name fee if he wanted to have his middle name back. (See Ward Duncan's article "The Government Changed My Name"

That reminded me of my own arguments with the Registrar General's staff. When my university-age daughter lost her birth certificate and needed a replacement in a hurry to avoid paying foreign student fees at registration, I attemped to buy a new one for her by placing an order at the government buildings in Toronto (the main facility is in Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario.) They told me I couldn't order the certificate-- because she had reached the age of majority and it "would violate her privacy". I did a number about being one of the participants in the birth event and knowing all about it. My signature was in fact on the form. The supervisor relented and let me order the certificate.

A few years later I was the executrix of the estate of my mother's cousin. The deceased's next-of-kin was an elderly man living in Las Vegas, Nevada. He asked me to get him an official copy of his sister's death certificate. I could have mailed him a form for his signature but I decided to challenge the Ontario Registrar General's clerks again. As expected they said that I couldn't order the certificate-- only the next-of-kin could. I explained that I had provided all the information on the death registration and it bore my signature. They really had no idea whether the deceased had a brother, where he lived and what his signature looked like. They relented and let me order the death certificate.

(With thanks to Linda)

Linda L. Reid M.L.S., is a retired librarian who worked in special libraries in the Toronto area, including the Ontario Legislative Library. She is a former chair of the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, and is currently the branch's programme coordinator, as well as editor of the Toronto Branch Electronic Bulletin. In February of this year the society created a Scottish Interest Group, convened at present by James F. S. Thomson. For further details see


JDR said...

One advantage in Ontario is that older BMD registrations are available through Ancestry, and on microfilm. They are the complete record; much more affordable than Scotland's People, or the GRO.

Linda will be a speaker at the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa annual conference, 16-18 September. See

Chris Paton said...

Thanks John. We're incredibly lucky here in Scotland in being able to pay a one off fee of £15 and to gain unlimited access to all civil registration records to the present day at the ScotlandsPeople Centre, which is miles ahead of the rest of the UK - no need to prove any connection to the deceased at all. Belfast offers a centre based service, much more expensive, and where someone has to read out the records to you (!), whilst there is no such set up at all (that I am aware of at least) in England. I asked Linda to post on this as I find it fascinating how different access to the same record types can be across the world. The Australian censuses is another example of where we have never had it so lucky in Britain.