Census of Population

Detailed information for 2021




Every 5 years

Record number:


The Census of Population is the primary source of socioeconomic data for specific population groups (e.g. First Nations people, Métis and Inuit, immigrants, language groups) and for detailed or small geographies. The Census of Population is mandated by law in the Constitution Act (1867) and the Statistics Act (1985) to determine the population of Canada and its' provinces and territories, every five years.

Population counts from the census have essential purposes, such as to realign the boundaries of federal electoral districts and to calculate transfer payments between levels of government. The data are needed by both the public and private sectors to support decision-making, like planning community services (e.g., schools and emergency services) or determining consumer and market demand in all parts of the country.

Data release - Feb 9, 2022 (Population); Apr 29, 2022 (Age, sex, gender); Jul 13, 2022 (Families, households, income); Aug 17, 2022 (Language); Sep 21, 2022 (Indigenous peoples, housing); Oct 26, 2022 (Immigration, religion); Nov 30, 2022 (Education, labour)


Statistics Canada conducts the Census of Population in order to paint a statistical portrait of Canada and Canadians on one specific day. The census is designed to provide information about people and housing units in Canada by their demographic, social and economic characteristics.

A sample of approximately 25% of Canadian households receive a long-form questionnaire. All other households receive a short-form questionnaire.

The Census of Population is a reliable basis for the estimation of the population of the provinces, territories and municipal areas. These counts are essential for maintaining Canada's equitable representation, as they are used to set electoral boundaries; estimate the demand for services in minority official languages; and calculate federal, provincial and territorial transfer payments.

The census also provides information about the characteristics of the population and its housing within small geographic areas and for small population groups to support planning, administration, policy development and evaluation activities of governments at all levels. The information provided by the census for these geographic areas and population groups is also used by the private sector as well as data users in their decision-making process.

Federal government, provincial and territorial governments, municipal governments, First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and organizations , libraries, educational institutions, researchers and academics, private industry, business associations, labour organizations, ethnic and cultural groups, private citizens, public interest groups are among the users of census data.

Reference period: May 11th, 2021, unless otherwise specified.

Collection period: Month of May through July, every (5) five years


  • Commuting to work
  • Education, training and learning
  • Families, households and housing
  • Immigration and ethnocultural diversity (formerly Ethnic diversity and immigration)
  • Income, pensions, spending and wealth
  • Indigenous peoples (formerly Aboriginal peoples)
  • Industries
  • Labour
  • Languages
  • Occupations
  • Population and demography
  • Population estimates and projections
  • Religion
  • Society and community

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The census enumerates the entire Canadian population, on a "usual residence" basis (de jure). The population enumerated consists of usual residents of Canada who are Canadian citizens (by birth or by naturalization), landed immigrants and non-permanent residents and their families living with them in Canada. Non-permanent residents are persons who hold a work or student permit, or who claim refugee status.

The census also counts Canadian citizens and landed immigrants who are temporarily outside the country on Census Day. This includes federal and provincial government employees working outside Canada, Canadian embassy staff posted to other countries, members of the Canadian Forces stationed abroad, all Canadian crew members of merchant vessels and their families. Because people outside the country are enumerated, the Census' population concept is considered a "modified" de jure census.

Foreign residents such as representatives of a foreign government assigned to an embassy, high commission or other diplomatic mission in Canada, and residents of another country who are visiting Canada temporarily are not covered by the census.

Private dwellings
The majority of Canada's population resides in private dwellings. For residents of private dwellings, census data are collected primarily by having one adult member of the household respond on behalf of the entire household through self-enumeration using an online form.

Collective dwellings
Collective dwellings are dwellings of a commercial, institutional or communal nature. These are the usual residence of many Canadians. Examples include lodging or rooming houses, hotels, motels, tourist establishments, nursing homes, hospitals, staff residences, military bases, work camps, correctional or custodial facilities, and group homes.

Statistics Canada takes a practical and contactless approach to enumerating people living in collective dwellings, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, no enumerator will be permitted to visit or enter most collective dwellings, especially those housing residents who are vulnerable to COVID-19, such as seniors' residences, hospitals and correctional institutions. All contact will be done by phone with the administrator of the collective dwelling, who will provide them with the key information required on each resident.

Instrument design

Statistics Canada takes a number of key steps to ensure that each census produces relevant information for Canadians and decision makers.

Preparing for each census requires several stages of consultation, testing and test data evaluation before recommended questionnaire content for the upcoming census can be proposed to the Cabinet of Canada for approval. These steps include:
- a content consultation with stakeholders, census data users and the general public
- qualitative testing of proposed modifications and additions to the content
- quantitative testing to evaluate content and respondent behaviour on a larger scale
- an evaluation of the test results guided by a content determination framework.

Upon Cabinet approval of the census questions, the Governor in Council reviews the questions, and an order in council prescribes the questions to be asked under section 19 or 20 of the Statistics Act. Within 30 days of the signing of the order in council, the content of the census is published in the Canada Gazette. The 2021 Census content was published in the Canada Gazette on July 17, 2020.

Statistics Canada conducted extensive consultations from fall 2017 to spring 2018 using an online questionnaire and face-to-face discussions with stakeholders. More than 2,800 respondents participated in the online consultation. This unprecedented number demonstrates a high level of interest in helping to shape an important source of demographic and social information for decision making and analysis.

In addition to the online consultation, Statistics Canada met with respondents from 14 federal departments and other interested organizations in person. To understand the needs of Indigenous organizations and communities, more than 60 in-person discussions were held in 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across Canada with more than 400 contributors.

Based on the findings from consultations and discussions, Statistics Canada modified the questions asked in the census for testing purposes. In 2018, various versions were tested qualitatively through cognitive, one-on-one interviews which were conducted by Statistics Canada's Questionnaire Design Resource Centre. These interviews were conducted across Canada in both official languages.

Based on the results of qualitative testing, the census questionnaires were further revised and tested quantitatively during the 2019 Census Test. The 2019 Census Test evaluated changes to the wording and flow of some of the questions, as well as the potential addition of new questions.

After statistically analyzing the results of the 2019 Census Test and considering costs, operational factors and safeguards against quality loss, Statistics Canada made recommendations to the government, which determined the final content of the 2021 Census questionnaire.


For the short-form:
This survey is a census with a cross-sectional design.
Demographic information is collected from 100% of the population. Data are collected for all units (dwellings) of the target population, therefore no sampling is done.

For the long-form:
This is a sample survey with a cross-sectional design.
For the census long-form, a random sample of 1 in 4 private dwellings in Canada is selected systematically. The sample size was determined to ensure the dissemination of reliable estimates for small areas and small populations. The long-form sample is selected from the 2021 Census of Population dwelling list.

Data sources

Responding to this survey is mandatory.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

The census reference date is May 11, 2021.

Collection includes response by Internet, paper questionnaire, the Census Help Line, and failed-edit and non-response follow-up.

Statistics Canada uses a wave methodology throughout the collection period to remind the majority of Canadians to complete their census questionnaires.

The first wave takes place during the first week of collection when an invitation letter is sent out to most dwellings across the country. This first letter provides instructions on how to complete the questionnaire online with a secure access code, the date by which the questionnaire should be completed, as well as the census website address and toll-free Census Help Line number for support.

During the second week of collection, a reminder is sent to households that have not yet completed their questionnaire. This letter also provides instructions on how to complete the questionnaire, as well as the census website address and toll-free Census Help Line number for support.

By the third week of collection, households that have not yet completed a questionnaire will receive a final notice informing them that a Statistics Canada representative will be visiting their household or contacting them by phone to complete the questionnaire.

Statistics Canada subsequently conducts follow-up activities with non-responding households to complete their questionnaires, either door to door or by phone.

The 2021 Census of Population questionnaires (short and long-forms) are similar to those used in the 2016 Census, with some revised and new content (see 'Instrument Design').

As was done for the 2016 Census, Statistics Canada will inform 2021 Census respondents that their earnings and income information will be retrieved from personal income tax and benefits files provided by the Canadian Revenue Agency. This use of administrative data provides better-quality, detailed information for small communities and populations and reduces program costs and response burden on Canadians. The census income and earnings data are used to develop and monitor the use and impact of income support programs.

In 2021, for the first time, immigrant status and year of immigration will be obtained from administrative files provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). These data provide vital information to help understand the living conditions and socioeconomic outcomes of immigrants and their children in Canada. As in 2016, Statistics Canada will collect admission category and applicant type information from administrative files provided by IRCC.

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s).

Error detection

However well a census is designed, the data collected will inevitably contain errors. These errors can occur at virtually any stage of the process, from preparing materials and creating the list of dwellings to collecting and processing the data. Census data users need to be aware of the different types of errors that can occur and of the steps taken to minimize these errors, so that they can evaluate the relevance and accuracy of the data and determine whether they meet their needs.

There are two main types of errors: sampling errors and non-sampling errors. Non-sampling error is likely to bias estimates. Efforts to minimize these errors are made at each stage of collection and processing to reduce their impact; e.g., correcting non-response and coverage errors by imputing and adjusting the weighting of the data from the long-form questionnaire. However, a residual error remains following this process.


Edit and imputation activities begin once data capture, coverage edits and FEFU operations have ended, and the RDB is deemed as complete, consistent, and as free of processing errors as possible. Edit and imputation represents the last processing step before the census data are delivered for dissemination purposes.

In its first phase, the census data from private households is run through the Whole Household Imputation (WHI), which resolves census total non-response before edit and imputation begins. Each of these dwellings either gets imputed as occupied or unoccupied based on the Dwelling Classification Survey results, leading to the provision of population and dwelling counts to Statistics Canada's Statistical Geomatics Centre. Besides the occupancy status, the WHI also imputes a household size, as well as a few demographic characteristics from administrative data if available, and searches for a donor household to donate its data for the remaining missing variables.

The second phase sees all data processed through a series of deterministic and donor modules for each topic, all run in a specific sequence using the Canadian Census Edit and Imputation System (CANCEIS). Modules detect and adjust for invalid, inconsistent or partial non-responses.


For the short form:

No weights are calculated to produce the estimates for the Census of Population short form. However, whole household imputation is performed to compensate for the cases of total non-response and the cases of under-coverage that were identified by the Dwelling Classification Survey (DCS).

One of the sources of coverage error in the census is the misclassification of dwellings on Census Day. This error can occur when an occupied dwelling is classified as unoccupied, or when an unoccupied dwelling is classified as occupied. The purpose of the DCS is to produce estimates of the number of these classification errors. A sample of dwellings for which no census questionnaire was returned is contacted, information is collected on the occupancy status and, if occupied, on the number of usual residents.

For the long form:

A weight is produced and associated with each responding household of the long-form sample. Persons, census families and economic families inherit the weight of their household. This weight is used to estimate population parameters.

A weight is first calculated for all the dwellings of the sample based on the sample design as the inverse of the probability of selection. In remote areas and Indian reserves, where the long form is used to collect the information of all households, this is the final weight and data imputation is performed for all cases of total and partial non-response.

Quality evaluation

It is essential to ensure the quality of census data. One way to do this is by conducting a variety of evaluations. Quality evaluation activities take place throughout the census process, beginning before data collection and ending after dissemination. These evaluations are based on the six dimensions of data quality presented in the Statistics Canada Quality Guidelines Catalogue no. 12-539-X: relevance, accuracy, timeliness, accessibility, interpretability and coherence. The purpose is to ensure that census data are reliable and that they meet user needs.

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 type does not apply to this survey.

Data accuracy

Many census data quality evaluations focus on their accuracy; i.e., the extent to which the statistical information describes precisely what it should be measuring. The findings of the activities to evaluate data accuracy are used to validate and certify the data prior to publication, to inform users of the reliability and accuracy of the data, to improve the next census, to adjust census counts for non-response and, following coverage studies, to produce official population estimates.


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