OTTAWA - Statistics Canada is making much of its data available for free, starting Wednesday.

Officials say many census details and economic reports long hidden behind an online pay wall will now be available to anyone — as long as users don't make special requests.

Custom requests, maps and printed information will still be paid services.

The agency is foregoing about $2 million a year by giving away its data, but officials say some of the costs will be recouped because demands for custom services will likely increase as users realize what is available to them.

The move is a relief to many community organizations that have had to stretch themselves thin to buy information crucial to their community planning.

"The whole 'free' thing is great. But the proof will be in the pudding, in terms of what is going to be free," said Ted Hildebrandt, director of social planning for Community Development Halton in southern Ontario.

Hildebrandt says it will be useful to have free access to standard tables, but expects he will still have to pay for key reports that refer to local levels.

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