Vital Statistics - Death Database
This is an administrative survey that collects demographic and medical (cause of death) information annually from all provincial and territorial vital statistics registries on all deaths in Canada.
Detailed information for 2011
Data release - September 25, 2013 (first in a series of releases; 2010 and 2011 data were released the same day. Please refer to the left sidebar under the heading "The Daily").
This is an administrative survey that collects demographic and medical (cause of death) information annually from all provincial and territorial vital statistics registries on all deaths in Canada. Prior to 2010, some data were also collected on Canadian residents who die in some American states. Starting with the reference year 2010, Canadian residents who die in American states are no longer collected.
The data are used to calculate basic indicators (such as counts and rates) on deaths of residents of Canada. Information from this database is also used in the calculation of statistics, such as cause-specific death rates and life expectancy.
For Canada as a whole, it was impossible to compile a satisfactory series of vital statistics prior to 1921. Eight provinces initially joined the cooperative Canadian vital statistics system, leading to the publication of the first annual report for Canada in 1921; that report included Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Quebec began to participate in 1926 and Newfoundland in 1949 (after joining Confederation) and their data were included in the tabulations from those years onward. Basic data from the Yukon and Northwest Territories were published as appendices to the national tables from 1924 to 1955; their data were first included in the regular tabulations in 1956. Nunavut came into being officially as a Territory of Canada on April 1, 1999. The name Northwest Territories applies to a Territory with different geographic boundaries before and after April 1, 1999.
Prior to 1944 all vital events were classified by place of occurrence. Since 1944, births, stillbirths, and deaths have been classified by area of reported residence, with births and stillbirths according to the residence of the mother.
The cause of death variable in the death database is classified according to the World Health Organization "International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems" (ICD). The following table shows the data years for which each revision of this classification was used. Data users must note that cause of death data coded to different revisions of the classification are not comparable and they should contact Statistics Canada for assistance with the use of this variable across classification revisions.
"International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems" (ICD) Revision and Data Year Used at Statistics Canada:
- ICD-3 used from 1921 to 1930
- ICD-4 used from 1931 to 1940
- ICD-5 used from 1941 to 1949
- ICD-6 used from 1950 to 1957
- ICD-7 used from 1958 to 1968
- ICDA-8 used from 1969 to 1978
- ICD-9 used from 1979 to 1999
- ICD-10 used from 2000 to present
- Births and deaths
- Diseases and health conditions
- Life expectancy and deaths
- Population and demography
Data sources and methodology
The conceptual universe of the Death database is deaths of Canadian residents anywhere in the world.
The target population of the Death database is deaths of Canadian residents in Canada.
The actual (survey) population of the Death database is deaths of Canadian residents and non-residents in Canada.
This survey is a census with a cross-sectional design.
No sampling is done.
Responding to this survey is mandatory.
Data are extracted from administrative files.
Provincial and territorial Vital Statistics Acts (or equivalent legislation) render compulsory the registration of all live births, stillbirths, deaths and marriages within their jurisdictions.
The Canadian Vital Statistics system operates under an agreement between the Government of Canada and governments of the provinces and territories. The Vital Statistics Council for Canada, an advisory committee set up by an Order-in-Council, oversees policy and operational matters. All provincial and territorial jurisdictions and Statistics Canada are represented on the Vital Statistics Council. Under the agreement, all registrars collect a specified set of data elements, although any of them may decide to collect additional information.
The central Vital Statistics Registry in each province and territory provides data from death registrations to Statistics Canada. The form for the registration of a death consists of personal information, supplied to the funeral director by an informant, and the medical certificate of cause of death, completed by the medical practitioner last in attendance, or by a coroner, if an inquest or enquiry was held. The following statistical data items are reported for each death by the appropriate authorities for inclusion in the Canadian Vital Statistics system:
- Age, sex, marital status, place of residence and birthplace of the deceased
- Date of death
- Underlying cause of death classified to the " World Health Organization International Statistical Classification of Disease and Related Health Problems" (ICD).
- Province or territory of occurrence of death
- Place of accident (for most non-transport accidental deaths)
- Autopsy (whether one was held, and if so, whether the results of it were taken into account in establishing the cause of death)
All jurisdictions supply microfilm copies or optical images or paper copies of death registration forms to Statistics Canada. In addition, all provinces supply electronic abstracts of registrations, which contain the required standard information.
Starting with the data for reference year 2007, the electronic transfer was performed by sending the data via the National Routing System (NRS) according to Statistics Canada standards. The effective date for this method of transmission varies by province (2007 for Alberta; 2008 for Manitoba; 2010 for Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia).
For the territories, the required standard information on paper is converted to electronic format at Statistics Canada.
Subsequent changes to registrations due to errors, amendments or omissions are transmitted to Statistics Canada as the information becomes available. However, changes received after a cut-off date are not reflected in published tabulations.
The population estimates used for the calculation of 2011 death rates are the July 1, 2011 updated postcensal estimates (PR) released on September 27, 2012. The 2011 population counts for the 0 to 4 category were adjusted using 2011 births data.
Provinces and territories that supply machine-readable data carry out edits (edit validation and data consistency) before transmitting their data, based on standard edit specifications prepared by Statistics Canada. Health Statistics Division has actively promoted the use of a standard data dictionary and standard correlation edits for provincial/territorial data entry. More extensive edit routines are applied to the data by Statistics Canada to ascertain completeness and quality of the data. For 2011 data, 8.6% of the records were assessed for follow-up action either by referring to the microfilmed registrations or optical images or by consulting with the registries. After the preparation of a preliminary data file, verification tables are prepared for data review by the registries and Statistics Canada (for example, distributions, large changes, percentage and number of unknowns, outliers and changes in the relative composition).
The last comprehensive study of the quality of data capture and data coding was done in 1981, when error rates for most variables were found to be quite low. Since then, studies have been completed on an irregular basis for specific provinces. The most recent study was done in 2002 on the 2000 Prince Edward Island death data following their development of a new data capture system. A systematic random sample of records was drawn, and the Prince Edward Island capture was compared with the microfilmed documents. Inconsistencies were documented, and a report was sent to the Prince Edward Island Vital Statistics Registrar. Overall, the error rate was zero for most of the important statistical variables (sex of decedent, place of birth) and very low for others (date of birth, age).
The only death data regularly captured at Statistics Canada are from the three territories, and any late records. Operations and Integration Division maintains data capture quality controls such as 100% verification for new clerks, and sample batch re-capture for experienced clerks to maintain an error rate of less than 3%.
Imputation is done on missing sex, age and province or territory of residence of the decedent for tabulations in publications only. Missing data on sex of the deceased were imputed based on the cause of death information and a logistic regression. Missing data on province or territory of residence of the deceased in Canada were imputed by the province or territory of occurrence. The missing date of birth of the deceased was imputed according to a decision table based on other information provided on the file and the missing age value by the median age value in domains defined by cause of death. These imputations affected few records annually. In 2011, the sex variable was imputed on 3 records, the age on 1 record, the date of birth on 9 records and the province or territory of residence on 32 records.
Upon completion of the annual national death database (produced as described in the section Error Detection above), Statistics Canada carries out a series of quality checks that include:
1) producing a set of verification tables which consist of basic tabulations for the majority of variables in the database by province or territory of occurrence,
2) sending the verification tables to each provincial/territorial registrar of vital statistics for their review and approval that Statistics Canada and the registry obtain the same results,
3) checking for internal consistencies, for example, running frequencies and looking for outliers on certain data elements and,
4) comparing the most recent data year with past data years to detect any unusual or unexpected changes.
Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects which could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.
Since the registration of deaths is a legal requirement in each Canadian province and territory, reporting is virtually complete. Undercoverage is thought to be minimal, but is being monitored. Undercoverage may occur because of late registration, but this is much less common than with birth registration. Death registration is necessary for the legal burial or disposal of a body, as well as for settling estate matters, so there is a strong incentive for relatives or officials to complete a registration in a timely manner. Some deaths are registered by local authorities, but the paperwork is not forwarded to provincial or territorial registrars before a cut-off date. These cases for 2000 data represented approximately 200 deaths, seven years after the year of death (accumulated late records), or less than one-tenth of a percent of the total records.
Other late or missing registrations may occur with unidentified bodies, or for Canadians who die outside of Canada. By long-standing practice, the date of death for unidentified remains is defined as the date of discovery. These deaths of unidentified persons typically represent less than ten cases per year. Undercoverage is also present for deaths of serving members of the Canadian military. Deaths of Canadians who died overseas while serving in the Canadian Forces are not included in the Statistics Canada databases because they are not registered by the provinces and territories.
Overcoverage is minimal. Deaths of non-residents of Canada are registered but are excluded from most tabulations. Duplicate death registrations are identified as part of the regular processing operations on each provincial and territorial subset, as well as by additional inter-provincial checks. Possible duplicate registrations are verified against microfilmed registrations or optical images, or by consulting with the provinces and territories.
For 2011, the response rate was 100% for most of the demographic and geographic variables on the death database (age, sex, date of birth, province of residence). Nationally, the birthplace of deceased and marital status variables have a response rate that corresponds to 95.7% and 96.2%, respectively. The reporting of postal codes was 98.1%. The birthplace of the decedent's mother and father remain poorly reported, at around 33.8% of deaths nationally.
Other Accuracy Issues
Age at death of persons over 100 years old
The demographers Bourbeau and Lebel have compared Canadian mortality and census data with other countries, and determined that the number of centenarians appears quite high in relation to other industrialized countries. In the absence of civil registration in Canada before 1921 and high levels of immigration to Canada, it is difficult to determine if the number of persons aged 100 and older is overestimated. On the death file, age and date of birth outliers are annually reviewed for capture errors. Reconciliation with other data sources is difficult, especially in the case of immigrants. Where birth certificates are unavailable, the overestimated age may have been used consistently on other documents such as health care registration, income tax, and census.
Cause of death certification
When a person dies, the medical certificate of cause of death is completed by the medical doctor in attendance, or the coroner, or medical examiner or other certifier. The certificate elicits the direct, antecedent and underlying causes of death, other significant conditions, manner of death (for example, natural, accidental, suicide, homicide), and further information on injuries where required.
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