Vital Statistics - Death Database

Detailed information for 2001





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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.

Data release - September 25, 2003


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. Some data are also collected on Canadian residents who die in some American states.

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

Reference period: Calendar year

Collection period: From the beginning of the reference period until six months after the end of the reference period


  • Births and deaths
  • Diseases and health conditions
  • Health
  • Life expectancy and deaths
  • Population and demography

Data sources and methodology

Target population

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 and of Canadian residents in American states.

The actual (survey) population of the Death database is deaths of Canadian residents and non-residents in Canada, and deaths of Canadian residents in some American states.

Instrument design

This methodology does not apply.


This survey is a census with a cross-sectional design.

No sampling is done.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: January 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002

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. These Acts follow, as closely as possible, a Model Vital Statistics Act that was developed to promote uniformity of legislation and reporting practices among the provinces and territories.

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 form for the registration of a death consists of two parts: the first, for personal information, and the second, for medical information. Personal data are supplied to the funeral director by an informant, usually a relative of the deceased. The part of the form comprising the medical certificate of cause of death is completed by the medical practitioner last in attendance, or by a coroner, if an inquest or enquiry was held. The funeral director, or person acting as the funeral director, enters the details pertaining to the disposition of the body (for example, burial) on the death registration form, and is responsible for filing the completed form with the local registrar, who then issues the burial permit.

The central Vital Statistics Registry in each province and territory provides data from death registrations to Statistics Canada. The following statistical data items are reported for each death by all provinces and territories 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) (See the "Survey description" section for further information about this variable).
-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 provinces and territories supply microfilm copies or optical images or paper copies of death registration forms to Statistics Canada. In addition, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and the Western provinces supply machine-readable abstracts of registrations, which contain the required standard information. For Newfoundland and Labrador, and the territories, the required standard information on microfilm or paper copies is converted to machine-readable format at Statistics Canada. Subsequent changes to registrations due to errors 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.

Error detection

Provinces and territories that supply machine-readable data carry out edits (presence of the data, validation of code ranges, 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 the completeness and quality of the data. For 2001, about 7% 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, 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). Issues being discussed include: the handling of amendments, consistency of reporting the name of the spouse, the proper reporting of place of injury information, consideration of recapture and 100% verification of certain variables, and earlier detection of errors.

With Prince Edward Island adopting their own data capture, the only death data regularly captured at Statistics Canada are from Newfoundland and Labrador, 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 of decedent for tabulations in publications only. Missing data on sex of the deceased were imputed based on the death registration number. This affects fewer than 5 records annually.


This administrative survey does not produce estimates

Quality evaluation

Upon completion of the annual national death data base (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 data base 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

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects that 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.

In order to prevent any data disclosure, confidentiality analysis is done using the Statistics Canada Generalized Disclosure Control System (G-Confid). G-Confid is used for primary suppression (direct disclosure) as well as for secondary suppression (residual disclosure). Direct disclosure occurs when the value in a tabulation cell is composed of or dominated by few enterprises while residual disclosure occurs when confidential information can be derived indirectly by piecing together information from different sources or data series.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

This methodology does not apply to this survey.

Data accuracy


Since the registration of deaths is a legal requirement in each Canadian province and territory, reporting is virtually complete. Under-coverage is thought to be minimal, but is being monitored. Under-coverage may occur because of late registration, but this is much less common than in 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 represent approximately 200 deaths, 7 years after the year of death (accumulated late records), or less than one-tenth of one 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. For out-of-country deaths, only deaths in the United States are regularly reported to Statistics Canada, and of these, Statistics Canada receives abstracted death records from approximately 20 American states. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in the United States reveals that in 2004 there were 572 deaths of Canadian residents in the United States, compared with 259 death records received by Statistics Canada via the state registrars. Health Statistics Division is working with provincial, territorial, and state registrars to increase the inter-jurisdictional exchanges of records for statistical and administrative purposes.

Under-coverage is also present for deaths of serving members of the Canadian military. Deaths of Canadians who died overseas while serving in the Armed Forces are not included in the Statistics Canada databases because they are not registered by the provinces and territories. Health Statistics Division is working with officials from the Department of National Defence to develop a death registration form for that department, based upon the model form developed by the Vital Statistics Council for Canada.

Over-coverage 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 information on response rates and other accuracy issues, refer to the following link.

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