Looking beyond Scotland – #4 Canada

Statistics Canada conducts a census every five years. The last census took place in 2016, the next census will take place in 2021.

As was the case with censuses conducted in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, uses of the data were varied and informed:

  • Statutory or regulatory purposes.
  • Resource allocation for programs and policies.
  • Service delivery for programs.
  • Planning, development, monitoring, evaluation and performance reports related to programs and policies.
  • Research.

The last census took place in 2016 and presented respondents with two options for sex: male and female. Unlike the question wording in Australia and New Zealand, the Canadian question explicitly referred to sex:

Following the 2016 census, Statistics Canada changed its definition of sex. Since January 2018, Statistics Canada has adopted the following definition:

Sex refers to sex assigned at birth. Sex is typically assigned based on a person’s reproductive system and other physical characteristics.

Aware that this definition made it difficult or impossible for some respondents to respond accurately, Statistics Canada has advised transgender, transsexual and intersex Canadians to either:

  • Indicate on the census the sex (male or female) with which they most associated themselves.
  • Leave the question blank and indicate in the comments section the reason(s) why this question was not answered.

It was also noted that the United Nations does not define categories of sex nor does it specify whether this concept refers to sex assigned at birth (for examples, see UN data or UN Free & Equal).

Furthermore, Statistics Canada acknowledged that in 2015 the Conference of European Statisticians Recommendations for the 2020 Censuses of Population and Housing confirmed that some countries have started using sex categories in addition to ‘male and female’.

In light of work taking place elsewhere, Statistics Canada noted that they provide a third category for sex in their variant classification of sex:

Although not included in the 2016 census, though this may change subject to future testing and consultation, Statistics Canada has also created a gender variable:

Alongside further question testing ahead of the 2021 census, the Canadian federal government have agreed to spend £4.97 million on a Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics to help identify data gaps and therefore ensure government funding is best used to serve the population’s needs.

Key points:

  • Unlike the question wording in Australia and New Zealand, the Canadian 2016 census question explicitly referred to sex.
  • Respondents who were unable to or did not wish to identify as male or female were advised to either indicate the sex with which they most associated themselves or leave the question blank.
  • Statistics Canada’s variant classification of sex includes three options (male, female and intersex), they have also created a gender variable (male gender, female gender and gender diverse).

Dr Kevin Guyan is an equality, diversity and inclusion researcher based in Edinburgh. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Published by Kevin Guyan

Dr Kevin Guyan is a researcher, writer and activist based in Edinburgh whose work explores the intersection of data and identity.

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