Guide to the Census of Population, 2016
Chapter 1 – Introduction

General information

Canada's most recent census was held in May 2016.

Census of Population data are important for all communities and are vital for planning services such as schools, day care, family services, housing, police services, fire protection, roads, public transportation and skills training for employment. Data are used by governments, businesses, associations, organizations and many others to make important decisions. The information provided by the 2016 Census of Population accurately reflects Canada's changing society.

Why does Statistics Canada conduct the Census of Population?

The Statistics Act requires that censuses of population and agriculture be conducted every five years, in years ending in '1' and '6.' The act also outlines the mandatory requirements for completing and returning census questionnaires. (For more information, refer to Appendix 1.1, Legislation.)

The Census of Population is the primary source of sociodemographic data for specific population groups such as lone-parent families, Aboriginal peoples, immigrants, seniors and language groups.

Adjusted population counts from the census are used as the base for the Population Estimates Program. Population estimates in turn are used to determine representation in Parliament, to calculate transfer payments between levels of government and to support various government programs across the country.

Why is the census in May?

The timing of the Census of Population is driven by the need to maximize the number of Canadians who are home during enumeration. The May 10 date allows collection procedures to run smoothly, therefore costing less.

In addition, the mid-May date allows more time for final follow-up to be completed before the busy summer holiday period begins. Improved population coverage means better-quality data.

Privacy and confidentiality

Providing personal information to anyone—whether in a census, a survey, or any other manner—does involve some loss of privacy. But in virtually any country, it is recognized that the benefits to the public of accurate census data far outweigh this loss of privacy.

In Canada, great care is taken to ensure that information collected from the census is clearly in the public interest and cannot be obtained effectively from other sources.

Statistics Canada places the highest priority on maintaining the confidentiality of individual questionnaires. Stringent instructions and procedures have been implemented to ensure that confidentiality is maintained at all times. For instance, census data are processed and stored on a highly restricted internal network and cannot be accessed by anyone who has not taken the oath of secrecy.

What's more, data releases are screened so that anonymity is assured. Names, addresses and telephone numbers are not part of the census database used for dissemination, and private contractors do not have access to confidential data.

Only a limited number of Statistics Canada employees have access to personal and confidential information. Those employees are able to collect, handle and process completed questionnaires.

All Statistics Canada employees must take an oath of secrecy, which remains in effect for life, even after employment is completed. Employees are subject to fines and/or imprisonment should they reveal identifiable information derived from the census. Any possible breach of the confidentiality of census questionnaires is an exceedingly serious matter which would be investigated immediately and thoroughly, and subject to the full force of the Statistics Act.

Consent to release personal information

Respondents were asked for permission to make their information available to Library and Archives Canada (LAC), 92 years after the 2016 Census, so that it may be accessed by family members, genealogists, historical researchers, academics and journalists.

The person who completed the census questionnaire was instructed to consult with all members of the household who were included in the questionnaire before answering the consent question.

This information is important for preserving Canada's history for future generations. Only records for which consent was received will be released in 92 years.

Respondents who wish to change their response to the consent question on the 2006, 2011 or 2016 Census of Population questionnaire can do so by completing a Request for change: Release of personal census data.

Retention of census information

Statistics Canada, in consultation with Library and Archives Canada, determines the best means of preserving the records so that information can be released in 92 years (for respondents who consented to their information being made public at that time).

Census records up to and including the 1916 Census are available either online or as microfilm copies through Library and Archives Canada. The 1921 Census records have also been released to the public (through by LAC).

A microfilm copy of the questionnaires from the 1921 to 2001 censuses is held by Statistics Canada. The original paper questionnaires have been shredded and destroyed.

The 2006 and 2011 censuses and the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) (which replaced the long-form census in 2011) were not microfilmed. Paper questionnaires were converted to digital images and an archival database containing all responses (including those submitted via the Internet) was created. The original paper questionnaires were shredded and destroyed. The same procedure for retention of census information will be used for the 2016 Census.

Official languages

As early as 1871, census questionnaires were produced in English and French. This tradition became law in 1988 under the Official Languages Act. This act states that English and French are the official languages of Canada and that service to the public must be provided in both languages.

As in previous censuses, procedures were in place for the 2016 Census to ensure that members of the public received services in the official language of their choice.

Other languages / alternative formats

In addition to English and French, the 2016 Census questions and the reasons why the questions are asked were available in 11 Aboriginal languages and 11 Immigrant languages, as well as in Braille, in an audio version and as a sign language video.

It is important to note that the questions were translated for reference purposes only. The census questionnaire had to be completed online or on paper, in either English or French.

Aboriginal languages:

Immigrant languages:

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