2021 census arriving amid pandemic

·2 min read
For the first time, Statistics Canada is carrying out a census during a pandemic. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
For the first time, Statistics Canada is carrying out a census during a pandemic. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

For some Canadians, it's never a great time to fill out a census form. This year, for the first time, Statistics Canada is asking them to do it during a pandemic.

But the country's chief statistician says this is precisely the time to find out more about how Canadians are living, working and commuting, because COVID-19 has thrown those things into flux.

"Getting a snapshot now is absolutely crucial," said Anil Arora. "All these trends that are happening at this time are really important for us to take note of because ... so many policy makers will look at what's happening now and see what do we want to retain, what do we want to change?"

The 2021 census will allow people to list more than one mode of transportation under the section about commuting.
The 2021 census will allow people to list more than one mode of transportation under the section about commuting.(The Canadian Press)

Arora said data collected from the previous census played a role in shaping the current national vaccination effort, while this census could potentially inform future public health campaigns.

Though many of us aren't commuting to work these days, the census will still ask how we're getting there, though it will offer more options including multi-modal transport — cycling part of the way before hopping on a bus or LRT, for example.

This census will ask Canadians to list the language in which they received their education. It will also include a question on gender, giving respondents the opportunity to identify themselves as transgender or non-binary.

Most Canadians who filled out the 2016 census did so online after receiving their access code in the mail, and Statistics Canada hopes to repeat that this year.

"They never have to see anybody," Arora said.

This year's census will ask Canadians to list the language in which they received their education.
This year's census will ask Canadians to list the language in which they received their education.(Fred Tanneau/AFP via Getty Images)

Canvassers could still knock on doors in areas where the response rate has been low, but they'll be wearing masks and keeping their distance.

"We are absolutely aware of the situation. We understand ... people would have, rightfully so, concerns about their safety," Arora said.

While this is the first time a census has been conducted in the middle of a pandemic, we've come close — a census was carried out in 1921, just as the world was recovering from Spanish influenza.