‘Contactless’ census planned for next year due to coronavirus pandemic

Statistics Canada building and signs are pictured in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Statistics Canada is working on plans to deliver a “contactless census” next May if COVID-19 remains a threat.

Officials from the agency said Friday the census day will be May 11, 2021 as planned.

But efforts are being made to protect the health and safety of both census staff and Canadians, and any in-person census-taking will respect any applicable health advice such as physical distancing and protective gear.

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In a technical briefing given on condition they not be named, the officials said in 2016, almost 90 per cent of Canadians responded to the census without an in-person contact, including online or by mail.

Some of the data collected may also show if there are longer-term changes to Canada as a result of the pandemic such as more telecommuting and other impacts on the labour force.

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Statistics Canada Friday published the full questionnaires that will be used for the census, including for the first time questions to count transgender Canadians, veterans and active military personnel and members of Metis groups.

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The changes to the 2021 questionnaire come out of consultations with various communities who felt they didn’t see themselves reflected in the questions in 2016.

The questions now ask a respondent’s sex at birth and current gender, which the questionnaire notes may be different from what is on current legal documents.

There is a new question looking for the numbers of Inuit enrolled in Inuit land claims agreements, and another asking about Metis government representation.

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The census will also ask about all the ways people commute to work, rather than just the most common way, as the agency tries to suss out how many people ever use forms of active or public transportation versus private vehicles.

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Statistics Canada is also no longer providing a list of suggestions of ethnicity on the census form, as it has in years past. Canada’s Jewish community was flummoxed after the 2016 census cut its population in half, from 309,000 in 2011 to about 143,000 in 2016.

The change happened after “Jewish” was dropped as one of the 20 suggested answers on the questionnaire, because it had not been one of the top 20 answers in 2011.

The 2021 question asking about the ethnic or cultural origins of respondents’ ancestors does not provide any suggested responses, though the agency says it will provide a web page with a long and diverse list of potential responses.

Additionally, Statistics Canada is trying to get information about why people work part time or seasonally for the first time.

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