Census 2016 completion rate at 98 per cent, early results suggest

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census sits on the key board of a computer after arriving in the mail at a home in Ottawa in a May 2, 2016.
A Statistics Canada 2016 Census sits on the key board of a computer after arriving in the mail at a home in Ottawa in a May 2, 2016. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Almost every Canadian household that received the 2016 census has dutifully filled it out and sent it back, proving that we are indeed a nation of law-abiding data nerds.

Statistics Canada is celebrating a 98 per cent overall response rate to its latest national census, sent out in May. Of the approximately 14 million households the agency expects to hear from, 13.75 million had responded by Friday, and almost 70 per cent of those questionnaires were completed online.

The response rate on the mandatory long-form census, which was reintroduced under the new Liberal government last winter, sits at 96 per cent.

Those numbers could shift somewhat in the weeks to come as the final questionnaires are received and enumerations from First Nations reserves and northern communities are factored in, but the director general of the census program said he is very happy with the results so far.

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“It’s not the final (number) yet, but things are looking good,” said Marc Hamel.

“Overall, the goal is not only the national 98 per cent, it’s to make sure we have high quality (data) for every community.”

READ MORE: Canadians claim Statistics Canada harassing them after completing census

Things got off to such a strong start in early May that Canadians crashed the census website the first night it was live, resulting in both frustration and widespread celebration of our collective enthusiasm for data-driven policy making.

Still some stragglers

Hamel said that Statistics Canada will continue to follow up with the small number of households that still have not filed their census papers until the end of July.

“We hope to be mostly done by the end of next week,” he said.

As with every enumeration, Hamel confirmed there have been people who have outright refused to complete the census. They are subject to fines and possible jail time, if it gets to that point.

“We will do a formal follow-up with people who have straight-up refused. The numbers are always small,” the director general said. “We will not be in a position to see if we have any cases that will be referred to public prosecutions until September.”

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WATCH: Have you filled out the 2016 census?

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Have you filled out the 2016 census? – May 13, 2016


Despite the high response rate, Hamel acknowledged that it hasn’t been all smooth sailing since May.

“A census is never uneventful,” he said.

There have also been a large number of cases where census forms have been sent to cottages or secondary residences, so some people with two properties may have believed they didn’t need to fill out that second form. But all Statistics Canada wants in these cases is a note saying no full-time resident lives at that address.

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READ MORE: Procrastinating on the 2016 census? Here’s what might happen

Some Canadians have also filled out their forms and received their completion code, only to suffer through a series of letters and in-person visits from enumerators. Certain residents have said it amounts to harassment from Statistics Canada.

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