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Improving data on 2SLGBTQ+ populations

August 16, 2023, 11:00 a.m. (EDT)

Canada is home to approximately 1 million 2SLGBTQ+ people, accounting for 4% of the total population aged 15 years and older. Previous studies have shown that 2SLGBTQ+ people face higher rates of harassment and violent victimization as well as poorer economic outcomes than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Launched in August 2022, Canada’s first Federal 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan presents a suite of measures that seek to advance equity and protect hard-earned rights, while also tackling discrimination against 2SLGBTQI+ individuals.

One of the objectives of the Action Plan is to improve data collection, analysis, research and knowledge on 2SLGBTQI+ people in Canada. Statistics Canada is contributing to this objective by continuing its work to address data gaps for this population. This includes developing or updating statistical standards and continuously working to improve data collection pertaining to these populations.

Standards: what are they for?

National statistical standards are sets of rules used to standardize the way questions are asked to people during data collection and the way statistics are disseminated. By ensuring that information about a given topic is gathered and communicated in the same way every time, standards improve comparability of data over time, facilitate data sharing and ensure quality statistical information.

Statistics Canada, as the national statistical agency, plays a leading role in ensuring that robust statistical standards are available and adopted as part of the national statistical system. These statistical standards are developed through rigorous testing and in consultations with a wide range of experts as well as members of the public. In each case, standards are meticulously crafted to make sure that they capture the right information using a terminology that is recognized by people living in Canada.

Developing standards through consultations

As society changes, so do the words that are used by people to describe their gender and sexual orientation. As a statistical agency, Statistics Canada must adapt to these changes to make sure that the tools used to collect data on these topics use a terminology that is respectful and that captures the right information. This includes conducting consultations to gather feedback from the public.

In 2019, work began on developing a statistical standard on sexual orientation and updating the sex at birth and gender of person standards. This initiative was divided into four phases: targeted consultations with experts, focus groups, a public consultation and cognitive testing. On August 16, 2023, Statistics Canada released a report summarizing the feedback received during the public consultation phase.

All feedback collected during the four phases of the consultation and testing process were carefully considered by subject matter experts while revising the sex at birth and gender of person standards and developing the new standard on sexual orientation.

The revised standards on sex at birth and gender of person were released on October 1, 2021, and the new standard on sexual orientation was released on August 16, 2023.

Timeline of data collection on 2SLGBTQ+ people at Statistics Canada

Part of Statistics Canada’s mandate is to collect the data that decisionmakers need to inform policies, programs and services that serve different segments of the Canadian population. In that sense, changes to legislations that include dispositions for specific population can contribute to changes in data collection activities. Looking at some changes in legislation pertaining to 2SLGBTQ+ people in Canada provides an insight into the context in which Statistics Canada first started collecting data on sexual orientation and gender.

In 1996, sexual orientation was added to the Canadian Human Rights Act list of motives proscribing discrimination in Canada. In 2001, the Benefit and Obligation Act was adopted to provide same-sex couples the same benefits as different-sex couples. Furthermore, in 2005, the Civil Marriage Act was amended, providing same-sex couples the legal right to marry. Among other considerations, these changes contributed to Statistics Canada’s decision to collect data on same-sex couples in the 2001 Census of Population and on married same-sex couples in the 2006 Census.

Around that time, the first question on sexual orientation was added to the Canadian Community Health Survey in 2003. Since then, sexual orientation is collected in many social surveys on topics such as housing, violent victimization and disabilities.

In June 2017, Bill C-16 was adopted, formally recognizing the protection for gender expression and identity under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada.

In the previous years, Statistics Canada had started investigating ways to measure gender diversity in Canada, as some individuals expressed dissatisfaction with how the census collected data on sex, indicating that they could not see themselves in the two responses of male or female.

In 2018, Statistics Canada started collecting data on gender in social surveys, such as in the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces. For the first time, the 2021 Census included a question on gender and the added precision by asking sex at birth. In April 2022, Canada became the first country to publish census data on transgender and non-binary people.

Statistics Canada will continue to engage with the Canadian population and evolve, as it has for more than a century, to reflect societal changes.

See Sex, Gender and Sexual Orientation Statistics for more products and publications.

Note to readers: 2SLGBTQ+ acronym

Whereas the Government of Canada adopted and encourages the use of the acronym 2SLGBTQI+ to refer to Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people and those who use other terms related to gender or sexual diversity, for the purposes of data analysis, the acronym 2SLGBTQ+ is used in this document, as information is not yet specifically collected about intersex people in Statistics Canada surveys.

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Contact information

For more information, contact the Statistical Information Service (toll-free 1-800-263-1136514-283-8300; or Media Relations (