Statistics Canada hires locals in First Nations to collect census amid COVID-19

·2 min read

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada is hiring local enumerators for the 2021 census in Indigenous, remote and northern communities to avoid outsiders needing to visit during the pandemic.

Geoff Bowlby, director general of the census program, says this will help keep people in these communities safe from those travelling into their regions from COVID-19 hot spots.

He says he also believes there would be more trust of locals hired from within their own communities, and this could lead to more comprehensive responses and better data.

Census enumerators heading out next month will also be prohibited from entering people's homes and cannot enter institutional dwellings, such as long-term care homes.

Despite this new no-contact approach, assistant chief statistician Lynn Barr-Telford says she remains confident the latest census will be just as successful as the one in 2016.

That saw a record-breaking 98 per cent response rate from Canadians.

"For all Canadians, this is really important. The more we have in terms of response, the better the information we have for all of us," Barr-Telford said Wednesday.

"We all rely on this information for making important decisions."

The content was decided well before COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, so Barr-Telford said there are no specific questions about the disease this year. But she also said the data collected will help decision-makers and communities get a comprehensive idea of the impacts of the disease on vulnerable populations.

Several new questions have been added this year to the census, including more updated language for identifying gender and the ability for respondents to identify if they are registered members of a Metis organization or settlement.

It will also be asking veterans to self-identify for the purposes of creating the first-ever national database of veterans. This will allow Ottawa to get a better idea of the individual needs of veterans so they can tailor policies and programs to them.

Instead of offering a list of ethnicities to choose from, the 2021 census will further allow Canadians to self-identify their ethnic origin.

"This will yield more representative results and better reflect Canada's growing diversity," Barr-Telford said.

The 2021 census begins on May 11.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2021.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press