The Force apparently weakening in Canada as number of Jedi declines

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

I don't know about you but I'm a little concerned about the drastic decline in the number of Jedi Knights in Canada.

The Canadian Press reports new census data released Wednesday by Statistics Canada shows people identifying themselves as Jedi in the 2011 National Household Survey dwindled to about 9,000 from a peak of more than 20,000.

This may be an under-reported crisis for Canada. After all, with budget cutbacks hitting the military and border guards, who's going to protect us from the Empire and its allies on the Dark Side?

One of Canada's most famous Jedi apprentices, Ghyslain Raza of Trois-Rivieres, Que., whose 2002 video drew more than 27 million views on YouTube, quit the order and went to law school, according to a 2010 article on Mashable.

It's part of a global decline in declared Jedis, Statistics Canada senior analyst Jane Badets told The Canadian Press.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia had more than 70,000 declared Jedi in its 2001 census but the figure shrank to about 58,000 in 2006 before climbing back to 65.000 in 2011. New Zealand doesn't officially count Jedi as a religious affiliation but 53,000 listed themselves that way in 2001, which would have made it the country's second largest religion behind Christianity. The number fell to 20,000 five years later but no figure was available for 2011.

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In Britain, Jediism passed Judaism to become the fourth largest reported religion in the 2001 census of England and Wales, with more than 300,000 adherents, according to the Huffington Post. By 2011 the figure had dropped to 176,632 but it was still the largest "other religion" selected by census respondents, the Post said.

The Canadian Press said the idea declaring adherence to the fictional Star Wars philosophy on the census form started as a gag among some B.C. ski buddies in 2001. But some people apparently take Jediism seriously.

"A Jedi is not someone who acts like the way they do in the movies," Maha Vajra, of St-Raymond, Que., who styles himself Grand Master of the Canadian Order of the Jedi, told The Canadian Press. "We don't dress up funky, we don't carry light sabres, we don't combat the Empire."

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Real-life Jedi see the Star Wars movies as inspirational and as fantasy parables in much the same way other religions use their fantastic stories to teach lessons of morality, The Canadian Press reports. Star Wars creator George Lucas drew on Buddhist and Daoist philosophies to come up with Jediism, according to Vajra, which is his Jedi name.

"What we do is what the masters of Jediism in the movies explain: self-mastery, responsibility, practising virtues like compassion, charity, [and] forgiveness, in everyday actions," he said. "This is what Jediism is."

It'll be interesting to see if the 2016 census shows a continued decline in declared Jedi or perhaps a bounce, given the planned 2015 release of a new installment in the Star Wars saga by Disney, which bought out Lucasfilm last year. Vajra thinks there will be a surge of new followers.

If the idea of thousands of otherwise sensible Canadians following a religion made up by a movie director has you rolling your eyes, look on the bright side. That other sci-fi-based religion, Scientology, has only 1,745 Canadian adherents, according to StatsCan's census table on religion.