Record Linkage Application Process

The record linkage application process can be divided into four phases:

Phase 1: Feasibility of the study and calculating time and cost estimates

In Phase 1 of the record linkage application process, the applicant needs to provide information about the proposed study so that Statistics Canada can assess the feasibility and prepare a preliminary cost and time estimate for conducting the record linkage.

SDLE Proposal Form

The SDLE Proposal Form collects contact information, description of the study, details on data files required, and expected timelines and deliverables. The client is required to identify the personal identifiers that are available on the cohort file to be linked.


The feasibility of the study will be assessed against the conditions of Statistics Canada's Directive on Microdata Linkage, and whether the content and coverage of the data files to be used in the linkage would meet the needs of the study's objectives. In some cases, this may require a more in-depth analysis (feasibility study) which would be conducted on a cost-recovery basis.

Initial cost estimate

If the study is deemed to be feasible, Statistics Canada will provide a preliminary cost estimate so that the applicant can secure appropriate funding. Preliminary cost estimates may be subject to change based on changes to the initial timelines and assumptions.

Phase 2: Formal approval

Upon funding being secured for the proposed study, phase 2 will commence. It involves preparation of the application to link proposal, review and approval of the record linkage. During this process, applicants may be contacted with comments or questions for the purpose of clarifying the submission.

Approval by the Chief Statistician of Canada

When the application is considered complete after the review by the Social Data Linkage Environment (SDLE) team, subject-matter experts and Information Management Division, it is submitted to the Chief Statistician of Canada for review and approval. If approved, a summary will be published on Approved record linkages. These are posted to demonstrate transparency and to inform the Canadian public how information on individuals is used. The same summaries are included in the Annual Report to Parliament on Privacy.


A letter of agreement (contract) will be prepared that will outline the terms and conditions of the work to be undertaken by Statistics Canada in order to complete the proposed linkage. It will be sent to the applicant for signature. The anticipated start time and duration of the record linkage project will be negotiated with the applicant and will be part of the letter of agreement.

Phase 3: Record linkage and deliverables

Once all necessary approvals are in place and a contract is signed by all parties, the record linkage will be conducted and a microdata file will be constructed and will reside at Statistics Canada.


The output of the record linkage project will be a microdata file without any personal identifiers. In other words, a file containing records on individuals but will all of the personal details (names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) removed. This file will be deemed sensitive statistical information (SSI) and will be subject to the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act. SSI is any information from surveys or other sources about a person, business or organization held by Statistics Canada – with or without name or other direct identifiers – as well as any aggregation of that information that could directly or indirectly identify a person, business or organization.

The deliverables to be generated from the SDLE need to be considered in phase 1 and specified in the contract. These can take many forms, depending on the applicant's requirements. The outputs options are:

  • Linked analysis file - This type of file contains analytical variables from both the cohort and outcome file(s) (flat file or relational file format) with supporting documentation.
  • Linked outcome file(s) - This type of file contains cohort unique ID with specified analytical file variables. Additional merge with the cohort file is required to generate a linked analysis file. Supporting documentation is provided.
  • Linked keys file(s) - This file contains only the unique associated identifiers of the source micro-records resulting from the linkage of two or more source data setsof the cohort and outcome files(s) that were linked. Additional merge of cohort file variables with outcome file(s) variables is required to generate a linked analysis file.
  • Feasibility study - For example, when research requires extensive explorative analysis to determine feasibility of linkage and costing.

The deliverables will be supported with documentation.


The applicant can apply to access the microdata file in a Research Data Centre (RDC). RDCs provide access, in a secure university setting, to microdata from population and household surveys, as well as from linked microdata files. The centres are staffed by Statistics Canada employees. They are operated under the provisions of the Statistics Act in accordance with all the confidentiality rules and are accessible only to applicants with approved projects who have been sworn in under the Statistics Act as 'deemed employees' of Statistics Canada. As is the case with employees of Statistics Canada, a deemed employee does not get access to all information held by Statistics Canada. Access to confidential information is strictly on a need-to-know-basis. The applicant will need to sign a microdata research contract which will specifically indicate the microdata files that can be consulted for the project. Having access to the files in the RDC allows the applicant to perform inferential statistical analysis on the confidential microdata. A Statistic Canada analyst will review all outputs to ensure they meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act before they are taken out of the RDC.

It is recommended that applicants contact Microdata Access Division well before delivery of the linked data outputs to start the access process.

Consult the RDC program website to get more information on the application process and guidelines.

Federal employees can access the data through the Federal Research Data Centre (FRDC). The FRDC operates on a cost-recovery basis. Contact the FRDC to get more information.

Phase 4: Retention of linked files, keys and identifiers

As stated in Statistics Canada's Directive on the Management of Statistical Microdata Files, the linked files are retained until no longer required. The linkage keys and direct identifiers are to be retained until the possibility of re-use for linkage purposes is considered low.

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