B.C. has Canada's 3rd-highest number of transgender, non-binary people per capita, latest census shows

·4 min read
A trans flag flies at the parliament building in Victoria. British Columbia has the third highest concentration of transgender and non-binary people among other province and territories, according to the latest data from the 2021 census. (Province of British Columbia - image credit)
A trans flag flies at the parliament building in Victoria. British Columbia has the third highest concentration of transgender and non-binary people among other province and territories, according to the latest data from the 2021 census. (Province of British Columbia - image credit)

More than 18,000 people across British Columbia and more than 100,000 across Canada identify as transgender or non-binary, according to Canada's first census that attempts to capture these underrepresented communities.

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released data from the 2021 census including information about gender identity, divided into five categories: Transgender women and men, cisgender women and men, and non-binary people.

Previous censuses only recorded whether respondents identified as men or women.

The census found that among B.C.'s population aged 15 or older, there are:

  • 5,450 transgender women

  • 4,460 transgender men

  • 8,420 non-binary people

  • 2,142,185 cisgender women, and

  • 2,039,990 cisgender men

The first three identifiers make up a combined total of 0.44 per cent of the B.C. population — the third-highest rate among provinces and territories, after Nova Scotia (0.48 per cent) and Yukon (0.47 per cent).

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Statistics Canada said it limited analysis of gender diversity to people aged 15 or older because children and youth may not be fully aware of their gender identity when filling out the census questionnaire.

The agency said it will analyze the gender data of people under 15 and will release its findings in July.

First country to release census gender data

For the 2021 census, Statistics Canada asked two questions: sex assigned at birth, which could be either male or female; and gender identity, which may or may not align with sex assigned at birth.

The agency says Canada is the first country in the world to record gender identity in this way.

Anne Milan of Statistics Canada's Centre for Demography says she's proud of this change, which was made after five years of consultations with the public and international experts.

"It fills an information gap that was identified during the consultations," Milan said, adding that the new information will "better meet the needs of all Canadians."

Census data is often used by federal, provincial and local governments to help determine where and what kinds of services to provide to communities, as well as by businesses and other organizations to have a better understanding of the populations they serve.

More gender diversity in urban centres, among young people

Among the more than 30 million people aged 15 or above living across Canada, 100,810 people identify as transgender and non-binary, the census found.

The average age of transgender (39.4) and non-binary populations (30.4) are much lower than that of Canada's entire population (48).

Across the country, gender diversity is highest among those aged 20 to 24, with nearly one per cent being transgender or non-binary.

More than 90 per cent of non-binary people aged 15 or older in Canada live in metropolitan areas with more than 100,000 residents. The highest concentration of transgender and non-binary people can be found in Victoria (0.75 per cent), Halifax (0.66 per cent) and Fredericton (0.6 per cent).

Other urban areas in B.C. with high concentrations of transgender and non-binary populations include Nanaimo (0.56 per cent), Nelson (0.6 per cent), Prince George (0.46 per cent), Kamloops (0.44 per cent), Vancouver and Kelowna (both 0.42 per cent).

David Horemans/CBC
David Horemans/CBC

Questions could be improved: Advocates

Aaron Devor, chair of transgender studies at the University of Victoria, says Canada has done a much better job than other countries, such as England and Wales, Scotland and Australia, on collecting data on gender and more detailed information is an important step.

But he said the census should have categorized gender identity as "woman" or "man" rather than "female" and "male," in order to avoid confusion with biological sex.

Blake Little
Blake Little

V.S. Wells, a non-binary and transgender freelance journalist who wrote a critique of the latest census, said some of the questions appeared exclusionary — including not providing intersex options and not including alternatives to gendered terms such as "son" and "daughter" to describe family relationships.

Wells also said the census was a "slap in the face" to people who have gone through the process of changing their legal documents to reflect their gender identity only to be asked about their sex assigned at birth.

"It's like asking me to write down what weight I was born, and having that have any impact on what weight I am now," Wells said.

Statistics Canada says it asks about sex at birth in order to ensure historical and international comparability of census data.

But Alex DeForge, the social impact co-ordinator at Vancouver-based LGBTQ resource centre QMUNITY, says the census could simply ask for gender and provide respondents with several options and the chance to write in other gender identities.

Belle Ancell Photography
Belle Ancell Photography

But DeForge says census gender data is a valuable resource for public policy research projects, especially those about people of intersectional identities.

"We can look a little bit more closely at how people experience the world as someone who is not just trans but also, say, racialized, because we know that racism is something that is going to differentially affect people who are gender-diverse as well as racialized," DeForge said.

Census 2021 provides the first counts of transgender and non-binary people in Canada

Allistair Brown/CBC
Allistair Brown/CBC

To learn more about gender identity, listen to They & Us, an award-winning CBC podcast that explores first-person stories of transgender and non-binary Canadians, available now on CBC Listen, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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