Backgrounder: 2021 Census of Population

Overview of the census

  • The census is conducted every five years.
  • The 2021 Census was Canada’s 23rd national census.
  • The year 2021 marked the 355th anniversary of the first census.
  • The short-form questionnaire (2A): 75% of Canadian households received the short-form questionnaire, covering the following topics: age, sex at birth, gender, relationships of household members, marital status, language and Canadian military service.
  • The long-form questionnaire (2A-L): 25% of Canadian households received the long-form questionnaire, covering the above-mentioned topics, as well as activities of daily living, sociocultural information, mobility, education and labour market activity.

Participating in the census

  • As in previous years, the 2021 Census was mandatory. All residents of Canada were legally required to complete a census questionnaire, in accordance with the provisions of the Statistics Act.

Major releases from the 2021 Census

  • There will be seven major “themed” releases highlighted from the 2021 Census of Population. These releases are published in The Daily, Statistics Canada’s official release bulletin, and offer data, analytical and reference products.
  • Release schedule:
    • February 9
      • Canada's growing population and where they are living
    • April 27
      • Canada's shifting demographic profile
    • July 13
      • Portrait of Canada's families and households
      • Canadian Military Experience
      • Income profile of Canadians
    • August 17
      • Linguistic diversity and use of English and French in Canada
    • September 21
      • First Nations people, Métis and Inuit in Canada
      • Canada’s housing portrait
    • October 26
      • Portrait of citizenship and immigration in Canada
      • Ethnocultural and religious composition of the population
      • Mobility and migration
    • November 30
      • Education in Canada
      • The changing dynamics of the Canadian labour force and how people get to work
      • Instruction in the official minority language

Why do we conduct the census?

  • The census paints a portrait of people in Canada and the places where they live.
  • The census provides high-quality information that is used by all levels of government, businesses, and various community and social services organizations.
  • Census data are used to administer government programs and plan daycare centres, schools, hospitals, housing, skills training for employment, public transportation and emergency services.
  • The census is also conducted to meet statutory requirements. The population counts from the census are used to adjust the population estimates, which—in turn—are used to determine representation in Parliament, calculate transfer payments between different levels of government and support various government programs across the country.
  • Census data are key during the pandemic since they are used for emergency response and preparedness purposes. Local-level census population, age, income and housing data are required by all levels of government to determine who is most vulnerable to the health and economic crisis underway. Furthermore, vaccine allocations have been conducted on a per capita basis, using census data.
  • Census data will help us better understand the impacts of the pandemic on different groups and communities, as well as their evolution since the last census in 2016. Moreover, data collected in the 2021 Census will inform many of the economic and health-related policy decisions that must be made by all levels of government in the coming months and years as the aftermath of the pandemic continues to affect Canadians.

How did we conduct the census?

  • Statistics Canada adapted to the reality of the pandemic to conduct a safe census that enabled Canadians to tell their story and provide vital information about their country and communities.
  • Collection procedures for the census were redesigned to ensure respondents and census employees were safe by limiting the amount of contact needed to participate in this important exercise.
  • All households were encouraged to complete the questionnaire online to adhere to a contact-free approach of census data collection.
  • No census employees from Statistics Canada were permitted to visit or enter institutional collective dwellings (e.g., seniors’ homes, long-term care facilities).

Languages and alternate formats

  • The 2021 Census questions were available in 25 languages (13 Indigenous languages and 12 immigrant languages), in addition to English and French. The census questionnaire was available in only English and French, however, and had to be completed in either English or French.
  • Materials such as large-print questionnaires, and braille, video and audio versions of the questions were available upon request by contacting the Census Help Line.

Content in the census

  • Statistics Canada undertook a rigorous consultation, testing, review and approval process to ensure that the questions in the 2021 Census reflect demands for key information.
  • The content proposed by Statistics Canada was submitted to Cabinet, and the questions asked in the 2021 Census were prescribed by an order in council, as is required by the Statistics Act.
  • The 2021 Census of Population short-form questionnaire (2A) asked up to 17 questions on topics such as age, sex at birth, gender, relationships of household members, marital status, language and Canadian military service.
  • The 2021 Census of Population long-form questionnaire (2A-L) contained the same questions as the short-form questionnaire, but also featured some new and modified questions on ethnic or cultural origins; religion; citizenship and immigration; First Nations people, Métis and Inuit; labour; and housing. Changes to questions are outlined in topic-specific fact sheets available on the Statistics Canada website.

Response rates

The national collection response rates for the Census of Population were as follows:

The national collection response rates by Internet for the Census of Population were as follows:

Please visit the agency website for a detailed breakdown (by geography and type) of the 2021 Census of Population collection response rates.

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