Guide to the Census of Population, 2021
Appendix 1.1 – Legislation


The Constitution of Canada (and its amendments) requires that the Census of Population be conducted to determine the population of Canada and the required number of members of the House of Commons.

The Statistics Act

According to the Statistics Act, Statistics Canada is required to conduct a Census of Population and Census of Agriculture every five years, in the years ending in 1 and 6. The relevant provisions of the Statistics Act 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
(a) in the year 1971 and in every tenth year thereafter; and
(b) 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

Mandatory requirement to respond

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

This requirement is set out in subsections 7(1), 8(1), 23(1), 23(2) and section 31 of the Statistics Act, which reads as follows:

Rules, instructions and requests for information

Subsection 7 (1):

“The Chief Statistician may prescribe the rules, instructions and, subject to subsection 21(1), requests for information that he or she considers necessary for conducting the work and business of Statistics Canada, the collecting, compiling and publishing of statistics and other information and the taking of any census authorized by this Act.”

Mandatory or voluntary requests for information

Subsection 8 (1):

The Chief Statistician shall determine whether a request for information is mandatory or voluntary, with the exception of the census of population and census of agriculture, both of which are mandatory.

Request for information by any method

Subsection 23 (1):

The requests for information prescribed under section 7 may be made by any method authorized by the Chief Statistician.

Duty to provide information

Subsection 23 (2):

A person to whom a mandatory request for information is made shall provide the information to Statistics Canada, properly certified as accurate, not later than the time prescribed by the Chief Statistician and indicated to the person or not later than the extended time that may be allowed in the discretion of the Chief Statistician.

False or unlawful information

The requirement to complete a census questionnaire is supported by the penalty provisions of Section 31 of the act, which was amended in 2017 to remove imprisonment as a penalty. This section is as follows:

Section 31:

“Every person is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $500 who, without lawful excuse,
(a) refuses or neglects, following a request for information under this Act,
(i) to provide any requested information to the best of their knowledge and belief, or
(ii) to provide any requested information when and as required under this Act; or
(b) knowingly gives false or misleading information or practises any other deception under this Act.”

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).
Report a problem on this page

Is something not working? Is there information outdated? Can't find what you're looking for?

Please contact us and let us know how we can help you.

Privacy notice

Date modified: