Differences between Statistics Canada's census counts and population estimates

The 2021 Census counted 36,991,981 people in Canada during the national enumeration with reference date May 11, 2021.  This count is lower than the adjusted census population of 38,192,700 people calculated for the same reference date and which is used as a basis for population estimates. The difference between the two figures is not unexpected and is similar to that which was experienced for previous censuses. This note outlines why there are differences between census counts and population estimates.

The objective of a census is to provide detailed information on the population at a single point in time. In this respect, one of its goals is to enumerate the entire population. Inevitably, however, some people are not counted, either because their household did not receive a census questionnaire (for example, if a structurally separated dwelling is not easily identifiable) or because they were not included in the questionnaire completed for the household (for example, the omission of a boarder or a lodger). Some people may also be missed because they have no usual residence and did not spend census night in any dwelling. In contrast, a small number of people may also be counted more than once (for example, students living away from home may have been enumerated by their parents and by themselves at their student address).

To determine how many individuals were missed or counted more than once, Statistics Canada conducts postcensal coverage studies of a representative sample of individuals. Results of these studies in combination with the census counts are used to produce population estimates which take into account net undercoverage.

For the 2021 Census, final coverage studies have been released on September 27, 2023. In turn, these have been used to revise and update the population estimates based on the 2021 Census results. Consequently, a series of revised population estimates for the period 2016 to 2023 has been released on September 27, 2023.

One of the advantages of the census is to provide counts for small regions for which demographic estimates are not available or are less precise. On the other hand, population estimates provide more frequent measures of population counts for more aggregated levels of geography. In addition, estimates are used to measure the evolution of the population between censuses and provide explanations behind the population growth. The demographic estimates are available on a quarterly and annual basis at the national, provincial and territorial levels as well as for some subprovincial levels.