Painting a Portrait of Canada: The 2021 Census of Population
8. Dissemination—Sharing of census results

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The goal of the Census of Population dissemination process is to ensure that census and related geography products and services meet the needs of data users. Statistics Canada strives to publish census results in a timely and user-friendly manner, and to provide most of its data free of charge. Custom products and services required to address very specific data needs are available for a fee.

Information disseminated from the Census of Population includes analytical, data, reference and geography products. Data visualization products further help users understand key census results. 

Data and analysis cover a diverse range of topics, such as population and dwelling counts, counts by age and sex, families, households, marital status, language, housing, type of dwelling, income, immigration, ethnocultural diversity, religion, education, labour, journey to work, language of work, and mobility and migration.

Dissemination principles

The Census of Population products and services are designed to

Census products and services are evaluated after each census. For the 2021 Census, Statistics Canada held consultations and discussions with key stakeholders and data users to ensure that its products remain useful and relevant.

The agency publishes a release schedule to let Canadians know when census results will be available to ensure equal access to the data. These release dates are announced online through The Daily, Statistics Canada’s official release publication.

Ongoing modernization initiatives at Statistics Canada will continue to build on past initiatives to improve output flexibility, timeliness and accessibility. Feedback gathered from users through discussions and consultations held by the agency will guide future dissemination practices and tools.

For the 2021 Census, Statistics Canada will

Data products to describe the population

The story of Canada, as seen through the Census of Population, is told on Statistics Canada’s website in words, data tables, infographics and videos. Analytical products are designed for the digital world and used to interpret key census findings. Furthermore, Statistics Canada publications, such as Insights on Canadian Society, use census data to provide further analysis in the months following release.

Online products allow data users to generate portraits of their communities. These products and services are designed to present a wide range of census information, including population and dwelling counts, and data by variable and topic. Please see the following two infographics from the 2016 Census to describe the population: Portrait of households and families in Canada and Population trends by age and sex, 2016 Census of Population.

Over the years, community profiles have been the most frequently consulted census product. They provide a statistical overview of large and small geographic areas based on a number of detailed variables.

Data tables present a portrait of Canada based on different census topics. Some tables allow users to perform simple rank and sort functions and include percentage distributions and percentage change from previous censuses so that users can compare census years and different geographic areas. Furthermore, mapping applications help users understand data at different levels of geography.

More advanced users require access to anonymized census files to perform their work. For the research community, including researchers within all levels of government, Statistics Canada has established Research Data Centres to provide researchers with access to census microdata for advanced analysis in a secure university setting. The centres are staffed by Statistics Canada employees who oversee the use of the data files. They are operated under the provisions of the Statistics Act in accordance with all applicable confidentiality rules and are accessible only to researchers working on approved projects who have been sworn in as deemed employees under the Statistics Act.

Data suppression

Published census data undergo a variety of automated and manual processes to determine whether the data should be suppressed to ensure that the identity and characteristics of respondents are not disclosed (referred to as confidentiality).

Confidentiality refers to the assurance that Statistics Canada will not disclose any information that could identify respondents. Confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any confidential information. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent the direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data. The agency does not publish census characteristics of geographic areas with a population below a certain threshold.

Reference products to better understand the data

Reference materials are designed to help users understand and make the most of census data. They provide background information and context to support data use. Every effort is made to simplify the text and add explanations to technical text to make the information easy to access and interpret.

The Guide to the Census of Population, 2016 provides an overview of the census content determination process, as well as of data collection, processing, quality assessment and dissemination. A similar guide will be published for the 2021 Census of Population by spring 2022.

The Census Dictionary contains detailed definitions of Census of Population concepts, variables and geographic terms, as well as historical information. Data users can refer to the Census Dictionary to better understand the data and how to compare variables between census years.

Reference guides provide information for users to use, apply and interpret data effectively for specific census variables. Each guide contains definitions and explanations of specific census concepts, as well as notes on data quality and historical comparability. Additional information is included for specific variables to help users better understand the concepts and questions used in each census.

Technical reports allow users to understand the conceptual framework and definitions used to gather the data, how the data were collected and processed, the methodology used to produce the estimates, the products used to disseminate the information, and the relevant data quality aspects.

Statistics Canada’s census products are designed so that information is available at varying levels of detail for different levels of geography. Standard products are designed to make the census data easier for all Canadians to access and understand, subject to the overriding requirement to protect statistical confidentiality.

Timing of data releases

Statistics Canada makes every effort to release census data as quickly as possible to present a statistical portrait of Canada that is timely and relevant. It gives Canadians direct access to a vast repository of information they can draw upon to better understand their communities.

During the 2016 data release cycle, all major census releases were completed within 18 months of Census Day (May 10, 2016). However, the agency continued to release additional products over the following two to three years.

New requirements for 2021

For the 2021 Census, the agency has identified new and enhanced requirements for greater flexibility in data outputs in terms of

The majority of the 2021 Census results will be available through a single access point on the Statistics Canada website. Expanded functionality is now available for standard products, which allows users to filter, select and customize the content and layout of the tables.

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