Painting a Portrait of Canada: The 2021 Census of Population
3. Population—Counting all Canadians

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Counting everyone

The goal of the census is to enumerate the entire population of Canada at a fixed point in time. Generally, two methods are used to do this: the de facto method, which enumerates people wherever they are on Census Day, and the de jure method, which enumerates people according to their usual place of residence.

The de jure method has been used in Canada since 1871. It is key for the census to fulfill its legislative requirements in support of the federal electoral system and transfer payments to provinces and territories.

Based on the de jure method, the census questionnaire typically includes questions and instructions to determine the person’s sole or main residence. This location is then aggregated in all data products by geographic area. It is also used to identify people who live together in the same dwelling—an important aspect of census data.

Who is included in the census?

The Census of Population enumerates the entire Canadian population, which consists of Canadian citizens (by birth and naturalization), landed immigrants, and non-permanent residents and their families living with them in Canada. Non-permanent residents are people who hold a work or student permit or who have claimed refugee status (e.g., asylum seekers).

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 Armed Forces stationed abroad, and all Canadian crew members of merchant vessels and their families. Because people outside the country are enumerated, the Census of Canada 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, as well as residents of another country who are visiting Canada temporarily, are not covered by the census.

Efforts for a thorough census

Special efforts are made during each census cycle to enumerate all Canadians, including those who are less likely or able to complete a census questionnaire, and those who are difficult to contact. For the 2021 Census, some of the support mechanisms planned to assist respondents include

Informing the population about the census

A successful collection operation employs effective messaging and a range of approaches to support and engage all households. Statistics Canada communicates proactively with Canadians to convey the importance and value of participating in the census.  

For the 2021 Census, communication activities aim to increase

Reaching hard-to-enumerate groups

The agency has identified specific population groups that may find census participation   challenging, or those who are hesitant to complete their questionnaire online. These groups include the following:

Canadians who speak neither English nor French: This may include recent immigrants and non-permanent residents.

Canadians who are uncomfortable with the online questionnaire: Some Canadians are apprehensive about using the Internet for self-enumeration.

Single-person households: In 2016, people who lived alone were more likely to prefer using paper questionnaires. Young people (particularly young single men) were less likely to participate.

Vulnerable people: For some persons (e.g., older persons living alone, people with health concerns and persons living in unsafe neighbourhoods), communicating with a stranger (census employee) can be a concern.

Mobile populations: People who are relocating to a new address or students who are moving away to study or work may be missed more easily in the initial collection stages of the census.

Communication activities that minimize in-person contact and respect the guidelines set out by public health authorities have been developed to help reach each of these groups to ensure greater awareness of and participation in the census to obtain a more complete census count.

In its communications strategy, the agency has designed broad messages intended to communicate the census message to all Canadians. Furthermore, targeted messages have been developed to ensure that harder-to-enumerate people are informed of the importance of the census.

Community outreach

Statistics Canada relies on many groups and individuals to carry out its programs. Ongoing discussions are held and advice is provided by partners, such as the Canadian Statistics Advisory Council and professional advisory committees, as well as through bilateral relationships with federal departments and the Federal–Provincial–Territorial Consultative Council on Statistical Policy.

The agency also relies on community supporters to ensure that census information reaches all Canadians. Working with organizations and individuals that have a trusted voice in their communities plays a critical role in achieving this goal. These include the following:

Indigenous communities

Regional discussions with Indigenous peoples for the 2021 Census were coordinated, organized and conducted by Statistics Canada’s Indigenous Liaison Program. The goal of this national program—led by 11 advisors across Canada—is to build partnerships with Indigenous organizations, municipalities, and provincial and territorial governments. These partnerships are important not only for increasing awareness and facilitating access to Statistics Canada’s data products, but also for helping Statistics Canada meet the information needs of Indigenous peoples.

As part of the Indigenous Statistical Capacity Development Initiative, Statistics Canada also engages with national Indigenous organizations and provides statistical capacity building based on the needs of Indigenous peoples. This initiative builds on existing data; provides technical support services to First Nations, Métis and Inuit organizations and communities; and works with new and existing partners to determine how strong and sustainable statistical and research capacities can be cultivated together.

The agency also regularly seeks feedback on its products related to Indigenous communities to ensure they continue to reflect and be relevant to First Nations people, Métis and Inuit. The Indigenous Liaison Program maintains an electronic network of approximately 6,000 contacts, including chiefs and council members, band managers, funding services officers, and Indigenous service providers.

Communicating the census

For each census cycle, the agency assesses its communication activities to ensure that the best tools available are being used to engage with Canadians. The lessons learned from this assessment are then applied to the next census cycle.

Communicating with the public and key stakeholders is an ongoing priority for the agency. For the census, the agency uses specific tools to promote awareness and understanding of the census.

Census website

The census website is used to provide a centralized platform for respondents to complete their questionnaires online and for the agency to communicate important information about the census, including on data privacy and security. website

Statistics Canada works closely with several federal departments and central agencies to actively promote the census on the website. For example, a carousel image was added to the main jobs page to promote census jobs, and a banner leading to the census website is featured on the home page to promote census collection.

Social media

Social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs) is used to foster engagement, cooperation and information-sharing with the public during all phases of the census.

Media relations

Traditional and new media coverage helps promote the census among Canadians. Furthermore, statistical announcements and other releases are scheduled to keep the media and general public informed of census activities. A media relations team responds to media inquiries and monitors media coverage across the country throughout the census.


An advertising campaign is designed to inform Canadians of the importance, relevance and security of the information collected during the 2021 Census. Television, radio, print, out-of-home advertising, and digital and social media are used before and during the census to encourage households to complete their questionnaires. Targeted messages are also used to encourage specific, harder-to-enumerate groups to complete their census questionnaires. 

Outreach, public relations and events

Outreach activities engage key stakeholders at the community level and support partnerships to promote census job opportunities and reach populations that are harder to enumerate.

Public relations activities involve engagement with federal departments and agencies. All departments and agencies are asked to include census banners on their websites, follow Statistics Canada on social media and send internal messages to their employees. Selected resources and programs of federal partners are leveraged for both recruitment and collection awareness. Partners who have physical offices in Canada are provided with print or digital communications products to display to the public, as well as reference materials for their staff. Statistics Canada distributes census messages through program platforms run by other departments and provides other departments with materials for distribution at events they are attending. Events can include appearances at local cultural events, job fairs, ceremonies and speaking engagements at conferences.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit strategy

To improve engagement levels among Indigenous peoples, Statistics Canada has developed strategic plans, used internal and external partnerships, and created customized support materials. The purpose of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit strategy is to increase awareness among Indigenous peoples about job opportunities within their communities; increase the number of Indigenous applicants for census jobs; support the collection of data in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities; and provide support materials that encourage participation while respecting cultural diversity.


The Teacher’s Kit and Adult Education Kit are used in schools and adult literacy programs to promote and increase awareness of the census. 

The Community Supporter Toolkit is used by community-based organizations, associations and municipalities across Canada to increase awareness of census job opportunities and the benefits of completing the census questionnaire.

The Small Business Hub is used by entrepreneurs and small business owners to understand how online census data products can help them make informed business decisions.

The Community Snapshot Toolkit is used to build community portraits using census data. The portraits tell the story of a particular geographic area in Canada through a statistical lens by providing a customized infographic for a given community. In 2021, a toolkit is also planned to provide customized content for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

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