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Information for first-time Census users


Census data are unique in breadth of coverage: a census attempts to obtain a minimum amount of information from every person residing in a country of the official day of the census. In new France, the first census was taken in 1666 by the Intendant, Jean Talon. After confederation, a census was taken in 1871, and the practice of taking a census has continued at regular intervals. It is currently the responsibility of the Census division of Statistics Canada to conduct a census on a five-year cycle.


The top priority for Statistics Canada in dealing with Census data is protecting the anonymity of the citizen who fills out a Census form. This necessity is the basis of all decisions concerning what data is released to the public and the form in which it is released.


The measures taken to protect anonymity need to be understood in order to utilize census data properly. For a discussion of all the steps taken to ensure confidentiality, see Chapter 3 of the 2001 Census Handbook. Two safeguards that have an impact on data analysis are:

What types of data are made available?

Aggregate Data

Aggregate data group individual respondents according to specific criteria, such as age, sex, religion, etc. Census products are aggregated by theme across units of geography specifically defined for purposes of the census.


The exception to the presentation of aggregated data is the release of the Public Use Micro-data files. These files are created from random samples of census records to produce files of data on households and individual respondents. Micro-data provide the means to link various individual traits to economic and social outcomes. However the fact that all the census information for the random sample is included in the file immediately limits the level of geographical information which can be associated with these individuals, according to the privacy constraints discussed above.

Information for experienced Census users

What has Changed in Census 2001

Variables Added in the 2001 Census:

Language of work

A question in two parts on language used at work was introduced for the 2001 Census. The first part asked which language the respondent used most often in his or her job. The respondent could indicate English or French, or specify another language. The second part asked for any other languages he or she used on a regular basis in the job. This new question provides insight on the vitality of official languages among the official and non-official minority language communities across the country. The data, for example, would provide information on the extent to which workers belonging to English or French minority language communities use their language knowledge in their job. In addition, it could also be possible to observe the linguistic integration of allophone immigrants in the labour force.

Birthplace of parents

A question on birthplace of parents was last asked in the 1971 Census. This question is part of a series of questions, which include place of birth, ethnic origin, population group and religion, that provide a socio-cultural portrait of the Canadian population. Also, with data on birthplace of parents, the census is now able to provide information on socioeconomic conditions of second-generation Canadians.


Data on religion are considered an important source of information on the ethno-cultural profile of Canadians. A question on the denomination or religion of the respondent (even if he or she is not currently a practising member of that denomination or religion) has been asked in every decennial census since 1871. Other surveys at Statistics Canada, such as the General Social Survey, are used to provide more in-depth information on religious practices.

Languages spoken at home

For the 2001 Census, a second part was added to the existing question on language
spoken at home. The first part asked for the language spoken most often at home by the respondent: English, French or another language. The second part asked for any other languages spoken at home by the respondent on a regular basis. This more comprehensive question enables data users to better identify language behaviour in homes where more than one language is spoken, particularly where spouses have different mother tongues. The retention of the mother tongue by people living in a minority situation is of particular interest.

Common-law couples

In view of the legal recognition of same-sex couples and of the corresponding need of governments and the private sector for data on same-sex couples, the definition of a common-law couple has been changed to “two people of the opposite sex or of the same sex who live together as a couple but who are not legally married to each other.” This definition is included in questions on common-law partners and on the relationship of household members to Person 1.

Questions dropped for 2001

No questions have been dropped from the short-form questionnaire. A question on fertility, which has traditionally been asked on the long form in decennial censuses, was not asked in 2001. The last time this question was asked was in 1991.

Summary of Changes in the 2001 Census

For a Detailed summary, see
Summary of Changes to the Canadian Census of Population , Data Library Services, University of Toronto [Laine Ruus]