Technical report on changes for the 2021 Census
Painting a Portrait of Canada: The 2021 Census of Population

Release date: July 17, 2020

Text begins


Once every five years, the Census of Population provides a detailed and comprehensive statistical portrait of Canada that is vital to our country. The census is the only data source that provides consistent statistics for both small geographic areas and small population groups across Canada.

The Census of Population is a cornerstone and an essential tool for understanding how Canada is changing over time. Census information is central to planning at all levels. Whether starting a business, monitoring a government program, planning transportation needs or choosing the location for a school, Canadians use census data every day to inform their decisions.

The 2016 Census offered excellent insight into our country, its geography and its people. For instance, while three in five Canadians live in Quebec and Ontario, Canadians are increasingly moving west. Also related to population, it is a story of urbanization: from the total count of 35,151,728 people, 12.5 million are residents of the three largest census metropolitan areas (i.e., Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver). When it comes to our vast land and its proximity to our neighbour, two-thirds of Canadians live within 100 kilometres of the southern border.

At Statistics Canada, the census is also central to the work that statisticians do. It is the foundation on which many important statistical programs are built.

The census process is ever changing. Statistics Canada has been a world leader in developing online enumeration and has taken important steps to determine how it can use administrative data—information already held by the government—to streamline and enhance the agency’s work.

In 2017, Statistics Canada also launched an ambitious modernization initiative that involves using the latest technologies to leverage the power of statistics and reduce the burden placed on respondents to complete surveys. That work continues for the 2021 Census, as many of these new processes will be used to provide Canadians with more timely and responsive statistics.

Looking to the future, data users are asking for more information, delivered at an increasingly granular level. Statistics Canada is prepared to meet these needs while listening to and consulting broadly with organizations and individuals representing various government departments, the general public, communities, special interest groups, the private sector and academics to ensure that the agency remains attuned to the interests and needs of Canadians.

As technology changes, protecting the confidentiality of each respondent’s personal information is—and will continue to be—of paramount importance to Statistics Canada. Each person’s identity will be protected by anonymizing personal data, securely handling and storing data, and ensuring that statistical publications follow stringent confidentiality and security standards.

It is important for the agency not just to do good work, but also to be transparent about the way that work is done. Ultimately, the census relies on the willing support, cooperation and participation of each individual who goes online or sits down with a pen and paper to complete their census questionnaire. All Canadians benefit when everyone contributes.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now very much a reality for Canadians, disrupting life as we know it, and changing many things we had taken for granted. It has certainly created a number of issues for the 2021 Census of Population, as Statistics Canada was in the final stages of preparing for data collection when it struck the country in 2020. The Census Program adapted to the situation to ensure that the 2021 Census of Population is conducted throughout the country in the best possible way, using a safe and contactless approach. Census data will be even more crucial to policy and decision makers, as results are released for the various topics of the 2021 Census. Statistics Canada is proud of its ability to rethink and rework all of the key aspects of this country’s largest peacetime activity—while ensuring at all times the safety of Canadians, including our employees.

I am pleased to share this look at the updated Census of Population with you, complete with its exciting content changes.

Anil Arora
Chief Statistician of Canada

Date modified: