Supplement to Statistics Canada's Generic Privacy Impact Assessment related to the 2021 Census of Population

Date: March 2021

Program manager: Director General, Census Program

Reference to Personal Information Bank (PIB)

Personal information collected through the 2021 Census of Population is described in Statistics Canada's "Census of Population and National Household Survey" PIB.

The "Census of Population and National Household Survey" PIB (Bank number: StatCan PPU 005) is published on the Statistics Canada website under the latest Information about Programs and Information Holdings chapter.

Description of statistical activity

The Census of Population's purpose is to provide statistical information, analyses and services that measure changes in the Canadian population and demographic characteristics. It serves as a basis for public and private decision making, research and analysis in areas of concern to the people of Canada. Under the Statistics Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. S-19), Statistics Canada is responsible for conducting the Census of Population every five years.

Census results are used to produce aggregate data in the form of profiles and cross-tabulations, anonymized public use microdata files, and analytical reports. Fundamentally, the value of the data lies in analysis and interpretation. Demographic and socio-economic characteristics such as age, sex and gender, marital status, ethnic origin, language, education and labour force activity become especially meaningful when analyzed in relation to one another. Census data are also used to lend significance to other data.

The Census of Population is a reliable basis for the estimation of the population of the provinces, territories and municipal areas of Canada. The information collected is related to federal and provincial legislative measures and provides a basis for the distribution of federal transfer payments. The census also provides information about the characteristics of the population and its housing within small geographic areas and for small population groups to support planning, administration, policy development and evaluation activities of governments at all levels. Data from the Census of Population are important for all communities and are vital for planning services that support employment, education and health care. The private sector uses census data for many purposes including market research, analyzing trends and planning. Statistics Canada also uses census results for selecting samples for other surveys.

The next decennial census is scheduled to be held in May 2021. The 2021 Census of Population will provide data required to update population estimates, which are used to determine transfer payments for the Canada Health Transfer, the Canada Social Transfer, Equalization and Territorial Formula Financing; and used to determine the number of federal electoral districts.

The 2021 Census will provide data to the Chief Electoral Officer as required by the Electoral Boundaries Act, to enable the work of electoral boundaries commissions.

To ensure the continued relevance of the census to Canadians, Statistics Canada conducts a formal consultation at the start of each census cycle. During that time, Statistics Canada invites data users, stakeholders and the general public to provide feedback on what information they use, for what purpose and what, if any, data gaps Statistics Canada should consider addressing in the next census cycle. A Consultation Report, 2021 Census of Population Consultation Results: What we heard from Canadians, was published on Statistics Canada's website on April 8, 2019.

As in past censuses, extensive consultations on the questions to include in the 2021 Census of Population were held with Canadians. New and modified questions, developed to reflect new needs identified in the consultations, were qualitatively tested by Statistics Canada in 2018 by using methods such as individual interviews and discussion groups, and quantitatively tested during a rigorous 2019 Census Test involving more than 135,000 households across Canada.

Reason for supplement

While the Generic Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) addresses privacy and security risks related to statistical activities conducted by Statistics Canada, this supplement describes potential new risks associated with the collection, processing and use of data related to new census content, and the possible concerns of Canadians about the intrusiveness of the collection. This supplement also presents an analysis of the necessity and proportionality of this collection of personal information. As is the case with all PIAs, Statistics Canada's privacy framework ensures that elements of privacy protection and privacy controls are documented and applied.

Statistics Canada uses its Content Determination Framework process to identify potential new census content for inclusion in the Census. The process begins by consulting external stakeholders on their uses of the data and related information needs, including requirements for relevance and quality. Statistics Canada also assesses the Canadian context which encompasses respondent burden and societal privacy concerns, and evaluates other considerations such as costs, operational factors, safeguards against loss of data quality and safeguards against loss of efficiency and/or quality in other Statistics Canada programs. The suitability of alternative sources (i.e. administrative data) is also considered as part of this process. Key content additions for the 2021 Census of Population are:

Sex at birth and gender

  • The 2021 Census includes a question on sex at birth and a new question on gender. Changes were made to better reflect how Canadians describe themselves and to reflect the diversity of the population. The census now asks "What was your sex at birth", rather than "What is your sex". Also, a new question on gender includes non-binary and transgender responses.

Minority language educational rights

  • For the first time, the 2021 Census of Population will ask five new language questions to identify children with the right to attend French schools outside Quebec, or English schools inside Quebec, in support of Article 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These additional questions will provide the most detailed and comprehensive statistics to date on the children of language rights-holders. The data collected through these questions will help school boards, provincial and territorial governments, parents, and communities estimate the number of children whose parents have the rights to have them attend French schools outside Quebec and English schools in Quebec, in accordance with section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and section 73 of the Charte de la langue française du Québec. They will also help to better plan educational programs to meet the needs of rights-holders.

Ethnic or cultural origins

  • The wording and format of the question on ethnic or cultural origins has been modified for the 2021 Census. Ethnic or cultural origin refers to the ethnic or cultural origins of the person's ancestors. Ancestors may have Indigenous origins, or origins that refer to different countries, or other origins that may not refer to different countries. Providing a limited list of examples directly in the questionnaire can have a significant effect on response patterns. Instead—and to help respondents better understand the question—a description of types of origins will be provided, along with a link to a list of over 500 examples of ethnic and cultural origins (the URL of the list of examples [] also appears on the paper questionnaire). This extensive list of examples will provide greater detail and diversity than what was disseminated in the past. The examples included in the list of ethnic or cultural origins were chosen based on their frequency of response to the previous census and on stakeholder and expert engagement. The list of country-based origins is based on the countries and areas of interest listed in the Standard Classification of Countries and Areas of Interest (SCCAI) 2018. Origins corresponding to countries of the United Kingdom (English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish) are also included.


  • Religion is asked every ten years on the census and was last included in the 2011 Census. The approach for 2021 is to continue to include the same examples in the questionnaire that were used in 2011 while also providing a link to a more comprehensive list of over 200 examples of religions and denomination (URL of the list of examples [] also appears on the paper questionnaire) to which respondents can refer. This approach will help respondents answer the question while encouraging them to provide more detailed responses than in previous censuses. As a result, a much greater number of religions and denominations will be disseminated for the 2021 Census. The examples included in the list of religions and religious groups/denominations were chosen based on their frequency of response to the 2011 National Household Survey and on stakeholder and expert engagement.

Citizenship and immigration

  • In 2021, the citizenship question will change from a single question with "select all that apply", to a two-part question heightened clarity and improved data quality:
    • Part A will ask whether the person is a Canadian citizen (by birth or by naturalization) or not a Canadian citizen.
    • Part B will ask whether the person is a citizen of a country other than Canada. If they answer yes, the question then asks them to specify the country of citizenship other than Canada.
  • In 2021, the questions on "immigrant status" and year of immigration will no longer be asked on the questionnaire. This information, along with immigrant admission category and applicant type, will be obtained from administrative immigration records, to reduce response burden and improve data quality.

Place of birth of parents

  • The wording and format of the question on the place of birth of parents has been modified for the 2021 Census. The new version of this question will refer to the place of birth of each "parent," rather than the place of birth of the "mother" and "father." This is to better reflect all possible family arrangements.


  • Modifications to Indigenous content in the 2021 Census questionnaires were identified through on-going discussions with interested parties, including Indigenous peoples, communities, organizations, and governments.
  • For the 2021 Census, the Indigenous group question will not include the term "Aboriginal", instead it will ask whether the person is First Nations, Métis or Inuk (Inuit). This is in line with the preferred approach identified during discussions with stakeholders.
  • A new question will collect information on whether respondents are registered members of a Métis organization or Settlement. The purpose of this question is to provide more detailed information on the Métis population to support policies and programs for Canada, and for Métis individuals and organizations.
  • A new question will collect information on whether respondents are enrolled under—or beneficiaries of—an Inuit land claims agreement. The main purpose of this question is to provide more detailed and relevant information for the Inuit population to better support evidence-based decision making by the Government of Canada, as well as by Inuit governments and organizations. For example, these data can be used to inform decision making surrounding existing programs related to education, employment or healthcare available to Inuit enrolled under an Inuit land claims agreement.


  • The 2021 Census has two new labour questions and modifications to the class of worker question to help better understand underemployment and other issues related to labour. The two new questions are related to the main reason an individual worked fewer than 49 weeks during the year preceding the census, and the main reason an individual worked mostly part time during that same year.


  • In 2021, the census commuting questions will expand to collect data on the use of multiple modes of commuting to get to work. As stated by numerous stakeholders, many commuters use multiple modes of transportation to get to work on a daily basis (e.g. walk and bus, bus and bike, car and bike).


  • The 2021 Census includes a new question asking people to self-identify as a Veteran or as a currently- serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). The main purpose of the question is to fill a significant Veteran-related data gap to help better serve this population by informing various policies and programs administered by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), the Department of National Defense (DND), the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and other Veteran support organizations. Data on the military and Veteran populations gathered through the 2021 Census will provide insights into housing sustainability, affordability, economic outcomes and other key domains from census population profile variables. The federal government spends over $4B annually in payments to Veterans, their families and other program recipients, yet there is currently no comprehensive source of data available that provides a complete listing of Veterans to ensure that these dollars are targeted to those who are eligible. Having a complete list of Veterans would provide meaningful insight to a broad number of policy, program and evaluation issues affecting the veteran population.


  • As a result of its consultations and testing, Statistics Canada has modified the placement and wording of the question on who in the household pays the rent or mortgage, taxes, electricity, etc., and introduced a question on user or occupancy fees for people living in band housing.
  • Moving this question to the person-level section of the questionnaire results in more complete responses, including more frequent reporting of more than one individual in the household contributing to expenditures. This reflects a better understanding of the question.
  • For 2021, the 2A-R questionnaire, used for enumeration in on-reserve, northern and remote communities, will include a new question on user or occupancy fees for housing provided by local governments, First Nations or Indian bands.

Income and expenditures

  • The 2021 Census content on income and expenditures will be similar to the 2016 Census content. Statistics Canada will inform 2021 Census respondents that information on their earnings and income will be retrieved from personal income tax and benefits files provided by the Canada Revenue Agency, as in the 2016 Census.
  • Questions on expenditures related to child care and support payments will remain in the long-form questionnaire. These statistics are central to policy-making, policy assessments, and labour market and economic well-being analyses. The questions help determine the disposable income of Canadians supporting the production of low-income statistics based on the Market Basket Measure (MBM). The Government of Canada announced the Poverty Reduction Strategy in August 2018 and made the MBM Canada's official measure of poverty. Having these questions on the census enables the calculation of MBM statistics at very fine geographic detail every five years. Although using administrative records for questions about child care and child or spousal support would reduce response burden, the information currently available to Statistics Canada from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on these subjects is incomplete. Therefore, administrative records are not used to collect this information.

This supplement also describes:

  • Use of administrative data for collective dwellings: New for the 2021 Census, letters with secure access codes for online response will be sent to the administrators of most collective dwellings (dwellings of a commercial, institutional or communal nature such as lodging or rooming houses, hotels, motels, tourist establishments, nursing homes, hospitals, staff residences, military bases, work camps, jails, group homes, and so on). Most residents living in collective dwellings will still be enumerated using information from administrative records provided by the administrator of the collective dwelling.
  • Use of cellular phone text and email reminders: Text messages and emails will be used to contact respondents.

Necessity and proportionality

The collection and use of personal information for the 2021 Census of Population can be justified against Statistics Canada's Necessity and Proportionality Framework:

1. Necessity:

Statistics Canada's mandate is to ensure that Canadians have access to a trusted source of statistics that meet their highest priority information needs. The efficient production of relevant, accessible, high-quality statistics helps to ensure that the Canadian economy functions efficiently and our society is governed effectively. The Constitution Act, 1867 requires that a general Census of the Population of Canada be taken in the year 1871, and every ten years thereafter. The Statistics Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. S-19) confers to Statistics Canada the responsibility of conducting the Census of Population starting in 1971 and every fifth year thereafter. As stipulated by the Statistics Act, the government (by an Order-in-Council) prescribes the questions to be asked in the census. By the same law, each person is required to provide the information requested in the census and Statistics Canada must protect the confidentiality of the personal information provided by respondents. The next census will be conducted in May 2021. The census content is the result of a Census Content Determination Framework that begins with consulting external stakeholders on their uses of the data and related information needs including the requirements for relevance and quality, followed by an assessment of the Canadian context which encompasses respondent burden and societal privacy concerns, and an assessment of Statistics Canada considerations including costs, operational factors, data quality and safeguards against loss of efficiency and/or quality in other Statistics Canada programs.

Data from the 2021 Census of Population provide a comprehensive socioeconomic portrait of Canada's population over time, that supports key requirements for policy areas, including labour market conditions, immigration, Indigenous peoples, education, mobility, skills development, official languages, housing and income. This information is vital to all levels of government, the private sector, academia and non-profit organizations for decision-making and for developing and monitoring of programs and policies. Some examples of these uses are:

  • The federal government uses population counts from certain census years to realign the boundaries of federal electoral districts and to ensure equal representation of the population in the House of Commons.
  • Demographic data from the census are used to produce population estimates. In turn, these population estimates are used to determine representation in Parliament, to calculate transfer payments between levels of government and to support various government programs across the country
  • Federal Government departments use census data to determine population age trends to estimate future demand for child tax benefits and Old Age Security pensions.
  • Provincial and territorial governments use census data on age and population numbers to understand how an area is changing and to estimate program needs, including the need for new day care centres, schools and retirement residences.
  • Federal research teams use census information to model risks from natural hazard events such as flooding, earthquakes and coastal hazards. Understanding where populations are present helps model where people may be exposed to natural hazards.
  • Transportation planners for provincial and territorial governments use census information to analyse traffic flows, assess existing transportation services and plan for changes to these services and to road networks.
  • Managers of programs use census data to help the visible minority population and people with disabilities join the workforce and get better jobs. They also rely on the census for information about the job market.

2. Effectiveness – Working assumptions:

The 2021 Census of Population is carefully designed to produce relevant, high priority, statistically meaningful information. The 2019 Census Test served to validate improved or new questions as well as improvements to collection tools and procedures. The 2019 test confirmed that the content can produce relevant and statistically meaningful information. The collection and use of this data will be effective in meeting Statistics Canada's objectives.

3. Proportionality:

To ensure the efficient and successful conduct of the 2021 Census of Population, Statistics Canada is collecting a short form questionnaire from all households and a long form questionnaire from a sample of 1 in 4 households. The sample size was determined in such a way as to ensure that all objectives are met, while minimizing as much as possible the respondent burden and the cost.

4. Alternatives:

The Census of Population is one of the only sources of information for small geographic areas, based on the same statistical concepts for the entire country, and the only source of information for many socioeconomic characteristics.

If the long form data was collected by a voluntary national survey, non-response bias could occur, specifically for smaller population groups. Similar concerns were raised in the context of the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS). The 2011 NHS demonstrated that in a voluntary context, some respondents tend to skip questions or abandon more often, amplifying non-response for certain questions, especially those closer to the end of the questionnaire.

Data linkages are used between Census of Population Program data and other sources of information for statistical analyses; to evaluate data quality, to assist with data processing, and for direct replacement of data when the quality is deemed appropriate. Please refer to the Processing and Analysis section under Mitigation factors for further information on data linkages.

Mitigation factors

The 2021 Census of Population will adhere to all Statistics Canada policies on collection, processing and dissemination of information.

This section defines the safeguards in place to address privacy risks that are identified in the Generic PIA as they relate to this specific activity.

Processing and analysis

The Agency's longstanding linkage experience has shown that particular combinations of personal information elements can be used to identify individuals in different data sources with a very high level of confidence, and thus link individuals across various files.

The following personal information will be collected by Census forms and used to perform record linkages:

  • First and last names (collected)
  • Date of birth (collected)
  • Sex/Gender (collected)
  • Marital status (collected)
  • Full civic address (from frame and collected)
  • Full mailing address (from frame and collected)
  • Relationship with Person 1 (collected)
  • Phone number (from frame and collected)
  • Mobility status (collected)
  • Country of citizenship (collected)
  • Place of birth (collected)
  • Frame identifier (from frame)

The linkage of Census of Population Program data and other sources of information will be used in statistical studies; to evaluate data quality and the impact of non-response, to improve and assist with data editing and imputation, and for direct replacement of data in presence of non-response when the quality is deemed appropriate. The linkage files will be used only within Statistics Canada for methodological research, development and processing.

Security measures for linkage keys and administrative files respect the policies, directives and guidelines for information technology security at Statistics Canada. When linkage is required, it is done using anonymized statistical identifiers ("linkage keys") and, as a result, no linked file contains personal identifiers such as name, phone number and address (excluding postal code). These anonymized statistical identifiers are used to link to other sources of information for statistical purposes only. The personal identifiers obtained are removed from the rest of the information and securely stored with restricted access with an approved operational requirement to access them, and whose access is removed when no longer required. The retention period for their storage and their destruction varies according to the length of time they are required to meet their intended use, as prescribed by Statistics Canada's Directive on the Management of Statistical Microdata Files.


It is the policy of Statistics Canada to provide all respondents with information about: the purpose of a survey (including the expected uses and users of the statistics to be produced from the survey), the authority under which the survey is taken, the mandatory or voluntary nature of the survey, confidentiality protection, the record linkage plans and the identity of the parties to any agreements for sharing of the information provided by those respondents, where applicable.

For the 2021 Census of Population, this information is provided in the letter of invitation to complete the Census questionnaire, in the electronic questionnaire itself and in Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) accessible through the Census website. In addition, Statistics Canada has prepared FAQs and speaking points to assist its internal staff to deal with inquiries from the public regarding the census.

In the event of exceptional circumstances affecting the quality of Census data, Canadians will be informed of the potential use of some administrative data to support post-collection activities to adjust for non-response.

Other factors

This section identifies other privacy considerations related to the 2021 Census of Population.

Increased use of administrative data in light of COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada is preparing to reduce in-person visits. Collection procedures for the 2021 Census have been adjusted to ensure Canadians and census employees are safe. A large-scale telephone follow-up operation will be launched in order to conduct interviews over the phone. For this to be successful, Statistics Canada must acquire new telephone number information from certain telephone service providers. Only phone numbers and associated addresses are being requested. Communities on reserves and Northern Communities will be contacted to discuss new collection plans, the hiring of local staff, and the availability of administrative data that could be supplied to Statistics Canada in support the 2021 Census. The administrative data would be comprised of dwelling addresses in the community and, where possible, phone numbers that could be used to update the census collection frame for the community and conduct enumeration. Finally, to adjust for non-response for regions where enumeration would not have been possible or would have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, or another natural disaster (such as flooding or fire), administrative data would be used, after collection has ended, to ensure the highest quality of Census outputs. These data are already acquired by Statistics Canada for its various statistical programs, including the Census of Population. They come from the Canada Revenue Agency, from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and from provincial and territorial births, deaths and driver's license files. Only variables necessary for imputation of non-respondents would be extracted from administrative files.

Collective dwellings

For collective dwellings, most residents will be enumerated using information from administrative records provided electronically by the administrators of the collective dwellings. Statistics Canada uses administrative data from Statistics Canada's Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (CCJCSS) to respond to the census questions on behalf of inmates. If a correctional or custodial facility is not currently reporting their data to Statistics Canada, a letter or email with a secure access code will be sent to the administrator of the institution for online response.

Cellular phone text and email reminders

In 2016, as a final reminder before starting field follow-up activities with non-respondents, the Census of Population used voice broadcasts to remind Canadians to complete their Census. These reminders resulted in increases in response.

In 2021, as more and more Canadians are using cell phones, Statistics Canada is adopting an approach—successfully tested in 2019—using text reminders. Non-responding dwellings with cellular phone numbers (estimated at approximately 2.2M dwellings) will receive a single text message reminder instead of a broadcast reminder message.

Non-responding dwellings associated only with a landline phone number (estimated at approximately 800,000 dwellings) will receive a voice broadcast reminder.

The census is also exploring a new approach using email addresses collected during the 2016 Census (updated by the Labour Force Survey and/or the 2019 Census Test when possible) to send a reminder to non-responding dwellings for which no phone number is listed on the census file. Email addresses could also be used to contact non-respondents following the text or voice broadcast reminder, at the beginning of the field follow-up activity. Respondents were advised of the potential use of their email addresses at the time of collection.

Text and email reminders will include the Census Helpline number, which recipients can contact if they require additional information.

Prior to receiving phone, text or email reminders, non-respondents will receive three mail reminders to complete their census. The reminders are part of established tested procedures to increase responses. On the third mail reminder, the non-respondent will be informed that they will subsequently be contacted by Statistics Canada by phone, text message, email or in person. The Q&A published on Statistics Canada's census website ( will also provide answers to questions related to the collection and use of text reminders and email addresses.

Statistics Act employee recruitment

Prospective candidates for Census Field Operations are required to complete an application through the secure, web-based Census Online Recruitment Application. The personal information associated with the application is stored in Statistics Canada's Collection Management Portal (a secure corporate tool for field staff), which is addressed in Statistics Canada's Generic PIA. This information includes name, address, contact information, citizenship status, experience, abilities and references. This information is used by recruiters to screen and interview candidates, as well as to initiate the security clearance process.

In compliance with the Government Security Policy, all personnel hired for the census must be granted Reliability Status. This includes a Criminal Records Check (CRC) and a credit check, in accordance with the Treasury Board Standard on Security Screening. Statistics Canada expects to conduct approximately 80,000 Reliability Status security assessments as part of the staffing process for the 2021 Census of Population.

Statistics Canada is working with a third party provider (as a deemed employee) to provide security screening work flow for criminal background checks and credit checks for the 2021 Census, based on a work flow that was tested during the 2019 Census Test. The third party provider will not have access to candidate information, except if access to the system is required to trouble-shoot critical issues, in which case the request must be approved by the Departmental Security Office following consultation with the Census Program. The access will be supervised and subject to access controls. Departmental Security Officers will be authorized to access the security screening results during the production and retention periods.

The security screening work flow begins with the candidates' written consent to the criminal record check and credit check. The solution securely interfaces to law enforcement computer systems – to perform the criminal record check – and to a credit rating service – to perform the credit check. The results are sent via secure electronic transmission directly to Statistic Canada's Departmental Security Office (DSO) as part of an automated workflow. DSO officers complete a further assessment of all candidates who are non-Canadian citizens, have declared a criminal record or have been out of the country more than 6 months in the previous 5 years. Reference checks are performed by Statistics Canada staff concurrently. Candidates who pass the security assessment screening (criminal record and credit checks) and the reference checks, are granted a Reliability Status and are considered eligible for census employment.

A review of the proposed procedures was conducted to ensure compliance with the Library and Archives Canada's Multi-institutional Disposition Authority 98/001 on the General Administration Function. As per ongoing operations at Statistics Canada and according to the disposition, the criminal record result sheets and credit check results are stored on a secure network drive in the candidate's electronic personnel file and retained for the required retention periods:

  • Criminal Record result sheets and Credit Check results of candidates who qualified for position and are in the pool of candidates (not hired) are kept for the duration of the pool and then securely destroyed.
  • Criminal Record result sheets and Credit Check results for candidates hired are kept for a period of 2 years after the end of employment.


This assessment concludes that, with the existing Statistics Canada safeguards, any remaining risks are such that Statistics Canada is prepared to accept and manage the risk.

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