2011 Census of Population and the National Household Survey - Privacy impact assessment


In Canada, the Constitution Act of 1867 and the Statistics Act of 1971 provide the legal mandate for the conduct of a census every five years. The census has historically been the only comprehensive source of benchmark information available at the national, provincial and local level. It provides a snapshot of the population: its size and geographic distribution and selected demographic characteristics. The data produced are used widely by all levels of government for policy planning and program administration. Many statutes and regulations refer to the Census of Population as a basis for the administration of their programs. The Census is essential in anchoring population estimates that govern the annual allocation of billions of dollars in health and social transfers and equalization payments to provinces and territories (approximately $60 billion in fiscal year 2009-2010), as well as in determining electoral boundaries for democratic representation and reform, and other federal legislative needs. Census data are also often used by the private sector to make critical business decisions and by Canadians in general in understanding the demographic makeup of their communities and their society in general.

Historically, the Census has collected “basic” data to permit the re-calibration of population estimates, and more “comprehensive” data to provide information on a range of socio-economic characteristics such as income, education, labour, disability, mobility and housing. The basic demographic data have been collected from all households in Canada and the more comprehensive set of data from only 20% of households.

Pursuant to Cabinet decisions in June of 2010, Statistics Canada will conduct the National Household Survey to collect the data that had been proposed to form the comprehensive portion of the 2011 Census. The survey will be collected on a voluntary basis with a sample size of approximately 33% of households in Canada as compared to 20% of households previously planned. The 2011 “short-form” Census will now be distributed to all households, as compared to 80% of households in previous censuses.


In 2009, a privacy impact assessment for the 2011 Census of Population was conducted focusing on the areas where a modification of procedures was adopted as compared to the 2006 Census. These modifications consist of the wave methodology for collection, the increased use of the internet response channel, the use of telephone broadcast messaging for non-responding dwellings, the automated questionnaire request system, the use of a Census Field Management System, as well as the reduced contracted services for systems development. This assessment addressed any privacy, confidentiality and security issues associated with the modifications, and if so, to make recommendations for their resolution or mitigation.

There has been a revised privacy impact assessment that updates any changes that have taken place since the earlier assessment and that incorporates issues specific to the National Household Survey.


This new assessment of the 2011 Census of Population and National Household Survey did not identify any privacy risks that cannot be managed using existing safeguards.

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