Guide to the Census of Population, 2021
Appendix 1.4 – Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

This appendix summarizes the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2021 Census of Population.

The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Canada in early 2020 and affected all steps of the 2021 Census process, from data collection to dissemination.

Content determination

No questions were added to the 2021 Census questionnaire to collect information on COVID-19. Traditional, fast-track and new crowdsourcing surveys; modelling techniques; and web panel approaches allowed for timely COVID-19 data to be produced for policy and decision makers across the country. Furthermore, Statistics Canada is using alternative data sources in addition to survey information to provide key information on the impacts of COVID-19 on different segments of Canadian society. The information provided in the census questionnaires should reflect each person’s situation on May 11, 2021, unless the questions specify otherwise. This reference date ensures that the information collected in the questionnaire provides an accurate snapshot of Canada’s society at this point in history. 

Nevertheless, Statistics Canada is aware that COVID-19 may have had an impact on answers to some census questions, including those on employment, education, commuting and expenditures. When providing answers to census questions, respondents were instructed to choose the responses that best reflected their situation or the situation of members of the household for the date or time period in question. Additional instructional text was also provided in ‘help’ features in the online questionnaires.


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada hired an additional 15 Indigenous Liaison Advisors for an Indigenous Engagement Task Force to bolster engagement efforts with Indigenous and northern communities for the 2021 Census.

The collection strategy for the 2021 Census of Population had to adapt and was turned into a fully contactless process to ensure respondents and census employees were safe. For example, early enumeration was cancelled for First Nations communities, Métis settlements, Inuit regions and other remote areas, and completion of the census questionnaire online was emphasized. Also, more resources were deployed for telephone follow-up to reduce the number of in-person visits, and an additional reminder letter was sent to non-respondents in July.

Furthermore, before the 2021 Census of Population, data pertaining to collective dwellings and their residents were collected through census employees. For the 2021 Census of Population, census employees did not visit any institutional collective dwellings such as hospitals, nursing homes and residences for senior citizens, as well as any long-term care facilities.

For institutional collective dwellings, administrators were required to complete a series of questions about their facility and complete the census for residents of the facility. If the facility maintained electronic records containing information required to answer the census questions (e.g., age, sex at birth, gender, languages), then they attached their records electronically in any format, even if some of the information was not available. Alternatively, they downloaded a standard electronic template and answered the census questions for each usual resident based on their knowledge.

Administrators of institutional collective dwellings answered a series of questions about their facility, and provided census information of their usual residents using the 2021 Census: Collective Dwellings electronic questionnaire.

Data quality

COVID-19 presented some challenges for conducting the 2021 Census of Population but despite these, the collection response rate for the country as a whole was a resounding success at 98.0%, thanks to Canadians who completed the census in the midst of the third wave of the pandemic. Additionally, unique challenges were encountered in Northern or remote regions of the country, such as travel restrictions, border closures, shorter and shifted collection periods, unavailability of local staff, and wildfires. Ensuring the health and safety of Canadians and our employees by adapting our collection operations to ensure high quality, trusted census data was a high priority for Statistics Canada.


The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the content of released products since it added a new layer of analysis. For example, analytical products (e.g., The Daily, Census in Brief and infographics) pertaining to population counts; collective dwellings; families, households and marital status; income; Indigenous peoples; immigration, place of birth and citizenship; ethnocultural diversity; education; labour; language of work; and commuting have been enriched with analysis depicting the effects of the pandemic. These analyses are available from the census web page as well as on Statistics Canada’s COVID-19: A data perspective.

To learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on a census subject matter, please refer to that subject specific reference guide on the 2021 Census of Population reference materials web page.

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