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Overview of the Census of Population
Chapter 2 – Legislation


Statistics Canada is required by law to conduct a Census of Population and a Census of Agriculture every five years, in the years ending in 1 and 6. The most recent Canadian census was held in May 2011.

The relevant provisions of the Statistics Act (most recently amended in 2005) are as follows:

Subsection 19(1):

"A census of population of Canada shall be taken by Statistics Canada in the month of June in the year 1971, and every fifth year thereafter in a month to be fixed by the Governor in Council."

Section 20:

"A census of agriculture of Canada shall be taken by Statistics Canada

  1. in the year 1971 and in every tenth year thereafter; and
  2. in the year 1976 and in every tenth year thereafter, unless the Governor in Council otherwise directs in respect of any such year."

Subsection 21(1):

"The Governor in Council shall, by order, prescribe the questions to be asked in any census taken by Statistics Canada under section 19 or 20."

Subsection 21(2):

"Every order made under subsection (1) shall be published in the Canada Gazette not later than thirty days after it is made."

Requirement to respond

Just as Statistics Canada is required by law to conduct a census, respondents are also required by law to complete their census questionnaires.

This requirement is set out in section 23 of the Statistics Act, which reads as follows:

Subsection 23(1):

"In lieu of or in addition to using agents or employees for the collection of statistics under this Act, the Minister may prescribe that a form be sent to a person from whom information authorized to be obtained under this Act is sought."

Subsection 23(2):

"Subject to section 8, a person to whom a form is sent pursuant to subsection (1) shall answer the inquiries thereon and return the form and answers to Statistics Canada properly certified as accurate, not later than the time prescribed therefore by the Minister and indicated on the form or not later than such extended time as may be allowed in the discretion of the Minister."

The requirement to respond is supported by the penalty provisions found in section 31 of the Act, which states:

Subsection 31:

"Every person who, without lawful excuse,

  1. refuses or neglects to answer, or wilfully answers falsely, any question requisite for obtaining any information sought in respect of the objects of this Act or pertinent thereto that has been asked of him by any person employed or deemed to be employed under this Act, or
  2. refuses or neglects to furnish any information or to fill in to the best of his knowledge and belief any schedule or form that the person has been required to fill in, and to return the same when and as required of him pursuant to this Act, or knowingly gives false or misleading information or practises any other deception thereunder is, for every refusal or neglect, or false answer or deception, guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both."

Voluntary surveys

The legal requirement to respond does not apply to voluntary surveys, as set out in section 8 of the Act. Section 8 also includes a provision that precludes obtaining information for a census of population or agriculture on a voluntary basis:

Section 8:

"The Minister may, by order, authorize the obtaining, for a particular purpose, of information, other than information for a census of population or agriculture, on a voluntary basis, but where such information is requested section 31 does not apply in respect of a refusal or neglect to furnish the information."

Statutory references to the census in constitutional law

  1. A decennial census (i.e., a census every ten years) in the year 1871 and every tenth year thereafter is required under section 8 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly named the British North America Act, 1867).
  2. Conduct of the census is made the responsibility of the federal government under section 91, subsection 6 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
  3. Representation in the House of Commons is made dependent on decennial census data under section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, as amended by the Representation Act, 1974.
  4. The amending formula for the Constitution Act is made dependent on population data from the "latest general census" under section 38 of the Canada Act, 1982.
  5. A number of provisions relating provincial subsidies to population have been legislated and amended over the years. The following is a summary of this legislation:
    • The Constitution Act, 1930, Schedule, replaced the 1907 legislation with respect to the three Prairie provinces. A subsidy was made payable to these provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) based on quinquennial census population counts and a variable with these counts up to a maximum population of 1,200,000. These provisions are still in effect.

      Legal opinions provided to Statistics Canada indicate a constitutional obligation to conduct a quinquennial census of the Prairie provinces exists until such time as their populations exceed 1,200,000. Since 1961, the population of Alberta has exceeded 1,220,000.

    • The Newfoundland Act, 1949, Schedule, part 26, made a federal subsidy to that province dependent on decennial census population counts. This provision is still in effect.
  6. Representation of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the House of Commons was made dependent on the mid-decade census of those provinces for the first mid-decade census subsequent to their creation only (i.e., 1906). Thereafter, representation was to be based on the decennial census of Canada (Alberta Act, 1905, section 6; Saskatchewan Act, 1905, section 6).
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